TASHKENT (TCA) — The United States has removed Uzbek cotton from a list of products that are barred from the country of concerns about child labor, RFE/RL reported.
Uzbekistan’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the change in a statement issued on March 27, saying it meant that Washington has lifted a ban imposed in 2010.
In a notice in the Federal Register on March 25, the U.S. Labor Department said it was removing Uzbek cotton from a list of products that U.S. authorities have “a reasonable basis to believe might have been mined, produced, or manufactured by forced or indentured child labor.”
It said that following a review, the Labor Department, the State Department, and the Department of Homeland Security “have determined that the use of forced child labor in the cotton harvest in Uzbekistan has been significantly reduced to isolated incidents.”
For years, rights watchdogs have been accusing Uzbek authorities of forcing children to pick cotton, one of the Central Asian country’s biggest exports. Uzbekistan for decades has mobilized students as well as staff at schools and medical clinics and hospitals to pick cotton.
In May 2018, President Shavkat Mirziyoev’s government issued a decree aimed at completely ending the practice of forced labor.
Mirziyoev has undertaken reforms since he came to power following more than two decades of repressive rule under Islam Karimov, whose death was reported on September 2, 2016.
Mirziyoev used his UN General Assembly speech in September 2017 to address the problem of forced labor in Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan is the fifth largest cotton producer in the world. It exports about 60 percent of its raw cotton to China, Bangladesh, Turkey, and Iran.
Uzbekistan’s cotton industry generates more than $1 billion in annual revenue, or about a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product.