RSN Updates

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2014 Uzbekistan Cotton Harvest Audio & Photo Update

2014 Uzbekistan Cotton Harvest Audio & Photo Update
IMAGE: Uzbek German Forum

With the 2014 Uzbek Cotton Harvest officially over, activists have begun to analyze the crisis. In this audio recording accompanied by photos from the harvest, Umida Niyazova of the Uzbek-German Forum (UGF), with the support of Matt Fischer-Daly of the Cotton Campaign, conveys data and stories from the 2014 harvest and talks about how it differs from last year.

In a nut shell: child labor decreased, forced labor of 17+ year-olds increased, corruption continued to be rampant, and transparency remained non-existent.

This year millions of Uzbek citizens were again forced to labor in cotton fields as late as November in order to escape the fees, foreclosures, expulsions, and beatings that befall those who don’t meet government-mandated quotas.

Thanks to pressure from the international community, including the boycott of Uzbek cotton by the majority of Western brands and retailers expressed through RSN’s Cotton Pledge, children under the age of 17 were largely excluded from the harvest. However, their teachers, doctors, parents, and older siblings were not as fortunate. With the drop in child labor, the exploitation of adults has seen an upward trend. More adults than ever were forced into the fields, with conservative estimates totaling three million.

Aside from an increase in adult field-workers, there were also rises in extortion, injuries, and death. The private citizens and business-owners who were fortunate enough to avoid field work were still forced to pay “cotton fees and taxes” to kleptocratic government officials. The bribes are deposited into shadow accounts that are kept off the books. A cargo truck crashed while transporting students to the field injuring 29, and 17 deaths related to the harvest were reported. Written details of the harvest can be found in the 2014 preliminary harvest report released by UGF and the Cotton Campaign.

It is a classic case of two steps forward, one step back. Although the most vulnerable are now out of the fields, tragedy, extortion and death continue. Companies and consumers need to continue to take a stand against this inhumane practice.


Jewelry Companies Targeted in New Conflict Gold Campaign

Going for Gold | Enough Project

As millions of dollars were spent on Black Friday last month by eager shoppers looking for a deal, the Enough Project launched a campaign to urge consumers to look beyond cost when considering their holiday purchases.

Since Dodd-Frank Section 1502 was passed, thousands of companies have put forth significant effort to undertake supply chain due diligence and commit to conflict-free sourcing of 3T (tin, tungsten and tantalum) minerals in their products. But, despite these efforts, gold remains the one conflict mineral (the “G” in 3TG) that continues to fuel armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Great Lakes Region (GLR) unabatedly.

At the onset of holiday shopping, the Enough Project has issued a new report, Going for Gold, highlighting the continued problem of conflict gold from the region and analyzing the efforts of major jewelry companies to source their gold responsibly.

According to Enough’s research, more than two-thirds of 3T mines in eastern Congo have become conflict-free due to efforts inspired by the 1502 legislation. On the other hand, gold continues to provide a major “financial lifeline” for armed actors. According to the report, in the DRC, an unbelievable 98% of artisanally-mined gold is smuggled out of the country. Using these illicit channels, armed groups sell gold into the global supply chain, and that conflict gold eventually ends up in various mainstream consumer products.

Since the jewelry industry is the main overall end user of gold, Enough surveyed the 14 largest North American jewelry retailers to assess their efforts to counter the use of conflict gold. Results concluded that Tiffany & Co. and Signet Jewelers came out as the industry leaders in addressing the use of conflict gold. The companies were applauded for “taking proactive steps to set up supply chain controls, contributing to solutions on the ground in Congo, and supporting the communities affected by mining and violence in Congo.”

Enough provides recommendations for other jewelry companies, such as instituting a company policy committing to conflict-free gold sourcing practices, and engaging suppliers on strategies to source conflict-free gold from Congo.

RSN urges consumers and investors to use this new information on the jewelry industry’s varying commitments to conflict-free gold sourcing in future purchasing and investment decisions. Consumers and investors have powerful leverage to incentivize companies to sourcing conflict-free from the DRC, and this holiday season is the perfect time to start exerting it.


RSN Plans Spinner Verification Initiative to Disrupt Flow of Slave Cotton

This post originally appeared as part of the As You Sow newsletter.

A new effort from Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN) to verify spinning mills as being slave-free aims to drive the market away from cotton harvested with forced labor. Currently in the early planning stages, the Spinner Verification initiative will ensure that brands’ and retailers’ policies against forced labor in cotton harvesting are being adhered to by yarn spinners and textile mills.

RSN will be working with MADE-BY to undertake a feasibility study to benchmark Spinner Verification against other current initiatives interacting with yarn spinners and textile mills to determine the most appropriate way to harmonize the various efforts. The results of the study are expected to be completed by Q2, 2015. MADE-BY is an award-winning European NGO with in-depth experience and a thorough understanding of the apparel and textile manufacturing industries.

Recently, RSN’s Company Pledge Against Child and Adult Forced Labor in Uzbek Cotton expanded to include Tesco and Fast Retailing (UNIQLO), the world’s second and third-largest retailers, bringing the total list of signatories to 163. Signatories to the Cotton Pledge promise to actively avoid cotton sourced from Uzbekistan, where the government uses forced labor to meet mandatory production quotas. Preliminary statistics of human rights abuses during the 2014 Uzbek cotton harvest are now posted.

In addition, RSN’s Cotton Program will soon release an addendum to the Cotton Sourcing Snapshot, which was published in early 2014. The addendum will feature updated ratings of the 17 lowest-scoring companies reflecting actions they are now taking to avoid Uzbek cotton picked with forced labor.


Walk Free Foundation Estimates 35.8 Million People in Modern Slavery

Walk Free Foundation Releases 2014 Global Slavery Index

The Walk Free Foundation has released the 2014 edition of the Global Slavery Index, estimating the number of people in modern slavery in 167 countries. It estimates that 35.8 million people are living in some form of slavery today. This is higher than the previous year’s estimate, which found 29.8 million people in slavery. Although this could mean a real increase in modern slavery, the report cites an improved methodology that could account for the number being higher. In 2014, Uzbekistan and The Democratic Republic of Congo have both ranked in the top 10 countries with the highest prevalence of modern slavery.

Uzbekistan also ranks in the top 10 countries whose governments are doing the least to end slavery, and is the only country besides Kyrgyzstan that does not have a specialized law enforcement unit or team that is tasked with investigating modern slavery crimes. The Uzbek government is notorious as the organizing power behind the system of modern slavery that forces at least 1.2 million citizens to pick cotton for two months every harvest season.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, decades of instability has made citizens vulnerable to slavery, particularly in agriculture and mining of gold, tantalum, tin, and tungsten. The connection between the revenue generated from minerals and the purchase of weapons that help to both perpetuate instability and exploit others has been well documented. Children are highly vulnerable to recruitment to armed groups and sexual exploitation, and 320,000 children are estimated to be working in artisanal mines.

Consumers have the ability to influence these systems of modern slavery, and the Walk Free Foundation recommends consumers check that companies have policies against forced labor or conflict materials before purchasing their products. It is also recommended that companies integrate policies and contracts to suppliers and sub-suppliers to ensure forced labor cotton and conflict minerals are not entering the supply chain at any point. Modern slavery continues to be prominent in the world and in order to diminish it, consumers, companies, and investors must take action.


Government of Uzbekistan Increased Forced Labor of Adults in 2014 Cotton Harvest

Government of Uzbekistan Increased Forced Labor of Adults in 2014 Cotton Harvest

More university students were forced
to work in the fields in 2014.

The Cotton Campaign and the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights have documented that the government of Uzbekistan used systematic, mass forced labor in the 2014 cotton harvest, which has recently concluded. In addition to coercing millions of people across the country to pick cotton, this forced labor system resulted in institutionalized harassment, extortion, and needless deaths.

Among the most tragic findings of the report was that 17 people died in the 2014 harvest, six more than last year. In one case, a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old died in a house fire after being left alone while their mother, who could not afford to buy herself out of the harvest, went to pick cotton.

Read the full report

Read the press release

“Cotton in Uzbekistan is produced by massive human rights violations, including forced labor, said Umida Niyazova, director of the Uzbek-German Forum. “Reducing the number of children in the fields by forcing even more adults to work against their will is not sufficient. The government needs to dismantle the forced labor system.”

Uzbekistan is the fifth largest cotton producer in the world, producing raw cotton mainly for exports. The government controls every aspect of production and imposes mandatory production quotas on farmers and harvesting quotas on pickers. All cotton must be sold to the government at government-established prices. Uzbekistan’s forced cotton harvest is one of the largest state-sponsored forced labor systems in the world.

The Cotton Campaign and RSN called on the United States government and European Union to urge the government of Uzbekistan to end its forced labor system, starting by granting the ILO unfettered access to survey forced labor and initiating agriculture sector reforms.