ZURICH – The Better Cotton programme has been expanded to Uzbekistan, the sixth largest cotton producer globally. Uzbekistan gained notoriety as a cotton producer in recent years due to its systemic use of child and forced labour in its annual cotton harvest. However, ongoing reform in the country as well as pressure by the global fashion industry – which has boycotted Uzbek cotton – has led to the elimination of the use of child labour and most but not all forced labour in the country.
Better Cotton’s entry into Uzbekistan comes as no surprise, the NGO having been conducting pilots there for several years. However, many will rightly ask why an organisation whose systems were found so badly wanting in China around the issue of forced labour is now expending its operations to a country whose cotton sector has become synonymous with the use of … forced labour.
In a statement, Better Cotton said: “Building on this success, Better Cotton believes that commercial incentives can help ensure that the newly privatised cotton sector continues to reform and meet international standards. The Better Cotton Programme in Uzbekistan has the potential to provide that incentive by linking cotton farmers to international markets and supporting them to continuously improve their practices.”
Better Cotton claims that through implementation of the Better Cotton Standard System, it “will provide robust and credible decent work monitoring systems that can demonstrate impact and results made on the ground.”
The cotton standard said it will also introduce physical traceability, under which cotton from licensed farms will be fully segregated and traced through the supply chain. No licensed Better Cotton from Uzbekistan will, at the present time, not be sold via the mass balance chain of custody.
The International Finance Corporation and GIZ began piloting implementation of the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria in Uzbekistan in 2017, working with 12 large farms. Six of these farms are now participating in the programme during the 2022-23 cotton season.