Every year, more than a million men, women, and children in Uzbekistan are forced by their government to work in the state-run industry harvesting cotton. Activists who speak out are tortured and detained.
And how does the government of Uzbekistan continue to get away with these crimes? Cotton purchasing companies like Daewoo International buy up Uzbek slave-grown cotton and sell it -- sometimes using layers of middlemen to further separate brands from the slave-grown cotton -- to multinational clothing retailers that are willing to turn a blind eye to the source of their cotton. That means retailers like H&M, the world's second largest clothing retailer, have tremendous power to stop this modern day slavery, by refusing to buy cotton from Daewoo.
H&M made a public pledge not to buy Uzbeki cotton, but yet it continued to purchase from Daewoo, a company directly profiting from slavery in Uzbekistan -- a fact activists from the global Cotton Campaign recently discovered. It's clear that without major changes to its supply chain monitoring system, H&M could "accidentally" purchase tainted cotton again.
As H&M's customers and potential customers, its up to us to show H&M it needs to be a global leader in stopping modern-day slavery by reforming its monitoring systems so it can guarantee that none of its suppliers are profiting from slavery.
Tell H&M to stop doing business with companies that profit from modern-day slavery.
The global economy is full of human rights violations, but the Uzbek cotton industry is unique. The industry is run by the country's authoritarian regime, and local authorities have to force people to work to meet production quotas. Schools are often closed during plantings and harvests so children can be forced into the fields. None of the profits are returned to farmers or local communities.
There aren’t many corporations that are willing to do business with Uzbekistan, but the Korean conglomerate Daewoo International runs three large cotton processing facilities there. Daewoo processes cotton all over the world and sells clothing to apparel companies, and it’s difficult to know which Daewoo products are slave-grown and which aren’t. So human rights activists have called on companies to boycott Daewoo entirely.
If we can get H&M to ensure that slave-grown cotton is permanently out of its supply chain, the impact could ripple across the entire retail industry. Daewoo -- which buys from Uzbekistan because it thinks it's immune to public pressure -- will see that another one of its former customers is putting up walls to prevent any slave-grown cotton from getting into its supply chain. We've heard rumors that Daewoo is considering packing up and leaving Uzbekistan because it keeps losing customers, so H&M's actions could come at just the right moment to push Daewoo out of the slave-grown cotton industry for good.
H&M promised not to purchase any cotton from companies profiting from slavery, but until the global Cotton Campaign broke the story last month, the corporation was purchasing from a Daewoo-owned factory. If H&M expects its customers to take its promises seriously, it needs to institute stricter rules ensuring that it doesn't do any business with companies that are profiting from slavery.
Sign our petition to H&M demanding that it take all steps necessary to fight slavery in Uzbekistan.
The Cotton Campaign:Stop forced and child labor in the cotton Industry of Uzbekistan