As the coronavirus threatens to weaken Uzbekistan’s economy, the country is calling for a boycott of its cotton to be lifted.
Nozim husanov, minister of employment and labour relations, issued an open letter to the Cotton Campaign requesting the organisation abandon a boycott on Uzbek cotton, in place since 2006 over the alleged abuse of children’s rights.
According to the letter, since the country’s lockdown began, nearly 150,000 citizens have lost their jobs and more than 200,000 Uzbeks have fallen below the poverty line.
The ministry claimed that 140,000 migrant workers have returned home without a source of income.
Since the Soviet period, Uzbekistan had used forced and child labour in its vast cotton fields.
Every harvest season, school pupils, university students as well as public administration workers – including doctors, teachers and military staff – were obliged to spend weeks picking cotton on state-owned fields without financial compensation.
After rights groups intervened, foreign governments, companies and investors pledged not to source textile products originating in the country. To date, more than 300 global companies have joined the boycott.