EU legal bid to block slave-tainted Uzbek cotton
The legal action says imports of Uzbek cotton are unlawful because the EU has offered Tashkent preferential tariffs without investigating the compliance of Uzbek human rights with international law. The Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (UGF) is behind the case.
Tashkent has faced criticism over the enforced mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of Uzbeks to work as unpaid labourers harvesting and planting cotton.
Uzbekistan has acknowledged the use of forced labour in the cotton harvest and vowed to “eradicate” slavery.
The case is currently being heard at London’s Administrative Court and is being referred to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg where any ruling would be legally binding across the EU.
“This approach is unprecedented … it aims to disrupt the unhindered importation of forced labour cotton into Europe,” said Gerry Liston of Global Legal Action Network (Glan), a UK-based charity working with UGF on the case.
“If successful, it would have implications for all sorts of goods tainted with forced labour,” he added.
Uzbekistan is one of the world’s largest cotton producers and the sector generates more than US$1 billion in annual revenue. This year it is due to harvest 2.9 million tonnes of raw cotton.
International fashion brands have raised questions about forced labour in their supply chains, prompting a series of reforms promising to end child labour and the conscription of public-sector staff.
But last year, a report by the UGF said more than 400,000 people endured forced labour harvesting cotton in 2018.
Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said no public-sector staff would be involved in this year’s cotton harvest. But it has been reported that firefighters, police officers, oil staff and public water utility employees were deployed in the fields.
The legal case is trying to lead to legislation that would ban goods made with child or forced labour from entering the UK. Anti-slavery legislation already exists in the US. The global slavery index reported that UK consumers bought £14 billion of goods made by some form of slavery in 2017.
“The judicial review is designed to force the government to reconsider actively encouraging the importation of goods made with slave labour into the UK,” said Gearóid Ó Cuinn of the Glan.
“At present, there is a torrent of goods that are entering our supply chains and are being sold to unwitting consumers that could be tainted with modern slavery and human misery. Nothing like this has been tried in the European courts before and I hope that this action we’re taking in the UK could potentially reverberate across the European continent.”
Picture credit: Wikimedia