RSN Updates

Read our updates to learn more about RSN’s work.


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.


Where is the Tainted Uzbek Cotton Going?

Where is the Uzbek Cotton Picked with Modern-Day Slavery Going?

Uzbek government officials signing contracts
to sell cotton sourced with forced labor.

The cotton harvest in Uzbekistan has ended this year, but forced labor orchestrated by the government of its own people is still deeply embedded into its production. Although over 160 companies and brands have signed the Cotton Pledge committing to avoid Uzbek cotton, the government has touted signing contracts worth over $1 billion in sales. This dichotomy raises an important question. What is the final destination of Uzbek cotton?

While it can be difficult to track the sale of cotton to a specific company due to the lack of transparency in the supply chain, several countries are known to import large quantities of cotton from Uzbekistan. Since many Western companies have boycotted the use of Uzbek cotton in their products, the Uzbek government has been targeting Asian markets to sell its cotton as well as expanding its domestic market for yarn and textile production. Most companies based in Bangladesh and China, where the vast majority of Uzbek cotton is exported, have yet to take any action to boycott cotton picked with forced labor. Furthermore, all but one cotton trading company continue buying Uzbek cotton.

“Daewoo, Indorama and the trading companies continue to buy forced-labor cotton from Uzbekistan, even after acknowledging the human rights abuses in its production,” said Umida Niyazova, Director of the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights. “The companies must cease this violation of international business and human rights standards, and their home-country government should hold them accountable.”

Upon the completion of the 10th International Uzbek Cotton and Textile Fair in Tashkent on October 14th, 2014, the Government of Uzbekistan announced cotton and textile sales of over $1 billion, compared to approximately $600 million in past years. In 2013, Bangladesh and China were the largest buyers of Uzbek cotton and accounted for over half of total sales. This year, in addition to companies based in Bangladesh and China, companies from South Korea, UAE and Russia also signed cotton contracts.

When Uzbekistan first starting hosting a fair in 2005, it was named the International Uzbek Cotton Fair. Since then, it has changed its name to the International Uzbek Cotton and Textile Fair. With the official announcement of “sales of $1 billion”, it is unclear exactly the value of cotton sales that will be exported outside of Uzbekistan, since this figure refers to cotton and textiles. Furthermore, several contracts that were announced were with companies that have joint ventures inside the country such as Daewoo International and Indorama. The figure “560,000 tons” of cotton sold was released, but it is unknown the value of this amount, which is estimated to be about half of the total expected production. The Uzbek government keeps a tight control over any media announcements regarding its cotton exports, keeping many readers in the dark regarding actual prices and exact sales amounts.

Is the Uzbek government increasing domestic production and manipulating the words and numbers to hide the fact that its cotton exports are decreasing? We think so.

The time to end state-orchestrated modern-day slavery in Uzbekistan is now. Due to our combined efforts, some progress has been made, such as the large elimination of the youngest children from the cotton fields. But we must keep up the pressure to ensure all older children and adults are not forced to pick cotton. Apparel brands and retailers have a responsibility to do their part to end cotton crimes around the world. If they haven’t already done so, it is important for brands and retailers to sign RSN’s Cotton Pledge as well as commit to the Cotton Campaign’s Daewoo Protocol. However, companies should not only show their support of ending the coercive system, but establish steps such as communicating their commitments to their suppliers and implementing due diligence to ensure their cotton is not indirectly supporting slave labor.


Canada Fails to Take Action to Reduce Trade in Conflict Minerals

Canada Fails to Take Action to Reduce Trade in Conflict Mineralsn

On September 24, private members bill C-486 was defeated in Canada’s parliament prohibiting the bill from receiving a second reading and referral. C-486 was introduced by Paul Dewar, New Democratic Party (NDP) MP and Official Opposition Critic for Foreign Affairs in March 2013. It had the intention of aligning Canada with other ongoing international efforts to reduce the trade in conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and surrounding countries through mineral supply chain due diligence.

The bill came within 19 votes of passing but was defeated by conservatives who instead wanted a voluntary proposal that would not strictly mandate company supply chain due diligence. Modeled on the precedent of Dodd-Frank Section 1502, Dewar’s conflict minerals bill sought to obligate Canadian companies using tin, tungsten, tantalum or gold—3TG minerals—in their products to undertake supply chain due diligence. With this due diligence activity, it is hoped that companies will be better able to ascertain the source of the minerals and the extent to which the minerals could be contributing to conflict.

Unfortunately, opponents voting against the bill focused on the downstream repercussions on Canadian companies of the mandatory due diligence rather than the potential upstream benefits in the DRC and surrounding countries. This sentiment was expressed by Louis Brown, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development, in the last house debate on the issue. According to Brown, “As a result [of the bill’s passage] an extremely wide range of companies of varying sizes, functions, and sectors would potentially be implicated by the bill and saddled with significant costs associated with reporting.” But, multiple studies have shown that this ‘crippling cost’ argument is unfounded. A bit contradictorily, opponents complained that the bill had a wider scope than Dodd-Frank but then also argued that it was too limited as it only focused on Africa.

Supporters of the bill expressed the importance of obligatory rather than voluntary supply chain due diligence in order to ensure company engagement on the issue. As expressed by MP Wayne Marston, “When we say ‘voluntary’, to me that fails the test of true due diligence. I come from farm country, and that is like saying to the fox that we trust it not to come near the henhouse. It would likely not work here.”

The Responsible Sourcing Network agrees with this sentiment and encourages Dewar to continue his advocacy on the issue through his Just Minerals Campaign. It is vitally important that jurisdictions introducing new conflict minerals legislation including the proposed EU legislation follow the precedent of mandatory supply chain due diligence and disclosure set in Dodd-Frank 1502. This is critical to ensuring that consistent and robust international standards for downstream corporations are established to bring positive change to the conflict minerals supply chain.


Group of Investors Urge European Union to Adopt Stronger Conflict Minerals Legislation

Group of Investors Urge European Union to Adopt Stronger Conflict Minerals Legislation

Yesterday, global sustainable and responsible investors and investment organisations representing more than €855 billion in assets under management sent a joint statement to the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Council. The statement urges EU policy makers to ensure more compatibility between the proposed EU conflict minerals regulation and Section 1502 of the US Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (known informally as “Dodd-Frank Section 1502”), which aims to prevent mineral sourcing revenues from fuelling the armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The statement was initiated by a working group composed of Boston Common Asset Management, Calvert Investments, Eurosif, Responsible Sourcing Network, Trillium Asset Management, Triodos Investment Management, and US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment and has been signed by other organisations.

Read the full press release

Read the investor letter with the full list of signatories

As the new European Commission will be inaugurated in the coming weeks and the European Parliament is scheduled to discuss the proposed regulation in December 2014, the statement signatories are expressing their concern about human rights risks related to mineral sourcing and their views on how regulation can help to limit this risk. To reinforce positive developments following the U.S. rules and to maximize effectiveness, the proposed EU regulation requires two key changes. In their statement, investors call on the European legislative bodies to better align the proposed EU regulation with Section 1502, by making the regulation mandatory and including in its scope all companies that manufacture products containing “conflict minerals.”

The investor group urges the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Council to adapt the EU legislation to better fit with the precedent set by the U.S. rules to promote companies’ broad adoption of robust conflict minerals due diligence and reporting.


Tesco, World’s Second-Largest Retailer, Signs RSN’s Cotton Pledge as Annual Uzbek Cotton Fair Begins

World’s Largest Retailers Take Stand Against Forced Labor in Uzbek Cotton Harvesting | RSN

Tesco has joined the fight against forced labor in Uzbek cotton by signing RSN’s Cotton Pledge. This support comes as the country prepares for the annual International Uzbek Cotton and Textile Fair, scheduled for October 14th and 15th in Tashkent. Retailers and apparel brands are taking action to prevent Uzbek cotton from entering their supply chains. Markets for Uzbek cotton sourced with forced labor continue to diminish as consumers become more aware of the egregious human rights violations that occur during the Uzbek cotton harvest, with over four million Uzbek citizens forced to pick cotton under threat of penalty.

Read our press release welcoming Tesco as signatory to the Cotton Pledge

Read the Russian language version

Due to the pressure on the Uzbek government by the international community, there have been some success in reducing human rights violations. Finally, after five years of coordinated advocacy, children ages 7-15 are almost completely absent from the fields, and the International Labour Organization (ILO) was allowed to monitor the cotton harvest for the “worst forms of child labor” last year. Much of the international pressure has come from retail companies who have signed RSN’s Cotton Pledge, committing to not use Uzbek cotton harvested with forced labor in their products. In addition to Tesco, recent signatories include Lacoste and Raven+Lily.

Retailers and brands have the power to decide where to source their products. We urge them to sign the Cotton Pledge if they haven’t yet. With a growing majority of global retailers and brands pledging not to use Uzbek cotton, the Government of Uzbekistan will be pressed to dismantle its orchestrated system of forced labor, and students, teachers, and civilians will be able to continue their normal lives.