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UK maintains preferential tariffs for Uzbek cotton despite endemic use of forced labour

UK must end trade complicity in Uzbek forced labour, 30 June 2020

In late September 2019, the Uzbek Minister for Emergencies issued a decree ordering over 2,000 firefighters to participate in Uzbekistan’s most recent cotton harvest. These firefighters were among the many thousands of people forced to pick cotton during this harvest.

According to a recent report published by the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights (UFHR), which has been monitoring harvests for over ten years, those forced to pick cotton in 2019 also included civil servants, bank employees, nurses and paramedics...

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), whose monitoring has been criticised for underestimating the extent of forced labour in the Uzbek cotton industry, over 100,000 people were forced to participate in the 2019 harvest...

It might be expected that in light of this longstanding and endemic practice, the UK market has been off limits to Uzbek cotton produced with forced labour. In fact, since 2001 the UK has been positively encouraging imports of this product via preferential tariffs (i.e. reduced import duties) applied by the EU to certain goods exported by developing countries. Remarkably, despite repeated calls by civil society organisations for it to stop incentivising forced labour, the EU has insisted on maintaining these preferential for Uzbek cotton – even throughout the period when in excess of one million people were being forced into the cotton fields annually. Following its exit from the EU, the UK has recently entered into a trade agreement with Uzbekistan which commits it to extending “most-favoured-nation” tariff treatment to all Uzbek goods.

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