Europe blocks Uzbek cotton harvested with child labour
International groups denounce the continuing exploitation of children as young as 9, forced to pick cotton for months without going to school. The EU rejects an agreement on tax relief for Uzbek cotton. Tashkent, however appears unwilling to change.
Tashkent (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The European Union has turned down a trade agreement to facilitate the textile exports from Uzbekistan to Europe, because the country continues to use forced child labor for the cotton harvest. For years the international community has unsuccessfully demanded Tashkent not force children to give up school in order to harvest crops.
Uzbekistan is the 5 th largest producer and 3rd exporter of cotton. Cotton represents about 25% of its exports and the agreement would lower tariffs in Europe. But on Oct. 4, the Committee for Foreign Affairs of the EU Parliament unanimously rejected the agreement, asking Tashkent to allow a full and thorough international monitoring to ensure a halt to the exploitation of child labor "at any level." Now the question will be voted upon by the EU Committee for International Trade.
Uzbekistan has long denied the exploitation of children for the cotton crops and defends itself by claiming that for the most part these are family businesses. But international organizations denounce, with data and photographs, that each year from September to December, between 200 thousand and 2 million children between 9 and 15 are taken away from school and forced to pick cotton for minimum wages.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) reports that children, even 10 years old, are brought by bus to the camps, with threats of fines for the families if they refuse. Joanna Ewart-Jones, in charge of the Program Against Slavery International, says that "90% of Uzbekistan cotton is harvested by hand, and about half is collected by forced child labour tolerated by the state."
The Government of Uzbekistan, however, takes advantage for its strategic position in Central Asia. While the EU restricts trade, the United States is discussing whether to lift the sanctions imposed in 2004 for violations against human rights, although the situation has not improved. The Obama government wants to resume military cooperation with the country, for its strategic location in the heart of Central Asia and close to Afghanistan and Pakistan. In addition, the country is rich in gas, much coveted by Europe as well as Russia, China and other countries.