The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Ira Arlook, 202-822-5200,
Leslie Getzinger,
American Federation of Teachers, 202 321 4034,

Teachers, Students, Labor Rights Watchdogs, Religious Leaders, Call on Uzbekistan to End Forced Child Labor in Cotton Fields

Major Human Rights Abuses Complicate U.S. Trade Relations with Central Asian Republic


Calling for an end to forced child labor in the cotton fields of
Uzbekistan, and carrying a quilt to which they pinned photos of children
picking cotton, over fifty demonstrators, representing American teachers,
students, religious and human rights organizations, and labor unions, dumped
petitions with thousands of signatures at the front door of the embassy of that
central Asian republic in Washington, DC today.

The demonstration comes at a critical moment in U.S.-Uzbekistan trade

The U.S.
government has just begun new talks with Uzbekistan this week for a trade
and investment agreement while a formal complaint filed by the International
Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) with the U.S. Trade Representative is pending.

Last month, the US Department of Labor included cotton
from Uzbekistan
on the List of Goods Produced by Child or Forced Labor that was required by the
Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005. US DOL also recommended that cotton from Uzbekistan be
included on an updated List of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child
Labor as part of Executive Order 13126 of 1999.

Today, the government of Uzbekistan
opens the Fifth International Uzbek Cotton Fair to attract U.S. and other
cotton importers to buy Uzbek cotton.

International brands and retailers including Wal-Mart,
Target, Levi Strauss, GAP,

Limited Brands, Disney and Nike, among many others,
have agreed to ban Uzbek cotton from their supply chains until forced child
labor is ended.

Uzbekistan is the world's second
largest exporter of cotton and up to one third of the country's workforce
labors on cotton farms. While the cotton industry is very profitable for a few
large landowners and political elites, the vast majority of cotton farmers live
in dire poverty. Independent union representation is almost nonexistent for workers.
Thousands of children as young as seven are
forced, by government decree, to work in the cotton fields instead of attending
school in order to meet government-imposed cotton production quotas. Even
children who are enrolled in rural schools are often dispatched to work in the
fields when their schools are closed down during harvest time by government
officials. Some children are conscripted to work in remote areas where they are
forced to stay in dormitories while they pick cotton.

Speakers, representing
some of the demonstration's sponsoring organizations included:

Arlene Holt-Baker, Executive Vice President, AFL-CIO

Antonia Cortese, Secretary-Treasurer, American
Federation of Teachers

Amanda Formica, United Students for Fair Trade at George Washington

Bama Athreya, Executive Director,
International Labor Rights Forum

James E. Winkler, General Secretary, United Methodist Church, Board of Church and Society

Sally Greenberg, Executive Director, National Consumers

Additional sponsors included the Child Labor
Coalition, Communications Workers of America, Not for Sale Campaign, Service
Employees International Union, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers,

"Credible reports indicate that up to a quarter
of a million children and youths become forced laborers in Uzbekistan's
cotton fields each year. This is one of the most widespread and shocking
examples of forced labor in the world today, it has been going on for decades,
and all of this cotton enters the global garment industry. We are wearing
the labor of these kids on our backs, and it is time once and for all for the
Government of Uzbekistan to stop this terrible human rights abuse."
- Bama Athreya, Executive
Director, International Labor Rights Forum

"For more than 2 million Uzbek students, going 'back to
school' also means going 'back to the fields,' as they and
their teachers are forced to leave school to perform long, hard and dangerous
work in the country's cotton fields. While the government and bosses reap
the profits, the children lose valuable learning time while toiling in the
fields for little more than meager meals. This state-sanctioned practice must
be denounced. All children belong in the classroom, and teachers must be free to
practice their craft." - Randi Weingarten, President,
American Federation of Teachers.

"The key to Uzbekistan's
future is not in the growth of its cotton, but in the growth of it's children's
minds, which cannot happen if they are forced to work. As a student and youth,
I stand in solidarity with young people in Uzbekistan in demanding that the
government stop these abusive policies." - Amanda Formica, George Washington
University member, United
Students for Fair Trade.

"The Uzbek government's use of forced child labor is
immoral and must be stopped. People of all faiths in the U.S. and around
the world want to be sure that the clothing they buy is made by workers who
enjoy ethical working conditions. We add our voices to those who are
calling for an end to abuses in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan." - Jim
Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church & Society, The United
Methodist Church

"Today, we are here to remind consumers that the cotton that goes into
the clothes they wear may have been harvested by school children in Uzbekistan,
where the government has replaced mechanical harvesters with the sometimes
bloody fingers of small children and teenagers, who are forced to leave school
and pick cotton. On behalf of American consumers, the National Consumers
League and the Child Labor Coalition demand that the government of Uzbekistan do
the right thing and stop forcing its school children to harvest cotton and
instead allow them to remain in school." - Sally Greenberg,
Executive Director, National Consumers League.


rally is sponsored by: AFL-CIO,
American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Child Labor Coalition, Communication
Workers of America (CWA), International Labor Rights Forum, Not for Sale
Campaign, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Electrical,
Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), Workers United