Cotton production in the Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan represents one of the most exploitative enterprises in the world.
Up to one third of the country’s workforce is made to labour on cotton farms; denied ownership of the land they work, and forced to labour without reasonable wages they are unable to opt out of cotton cultivation – those who try are subject to violence, imprisonment and intimidation. Tens of thousands of children are forced to pick the cotton harvest each year. Crucially, the suffering caused by this industry comes at the hands of the government. It is the Uzbek state, not the country’s mafia that instigates the abuses connected to the production and sale of cotton turning its people in to a slave nation.
More than US$ 1 billion is generated through export – representing around 60% of hard currency export earnings and placing Uzbekistan as the world’s second largest exporter of cotton – and it is the totalitarian dictatorship of Pres- ident Islam Karimov that exclusively benefits. Europe (EU and Switzerland) is the major market for this tainted product, buying around US$ 350 million of Uzbek cotton annually.