Clothing retailers can try to ensure their cotton is not tainted by forced labour in Uzbekistan, but tangled supply chains mean they remain unable to offer any guarantees
When it comes to cotton from Uzbekistan, brands choose their words carefully. They don’t want it in their products because the dictatorial Uzbek regime forces its people to work at cotton harvest time. This previously included children, though in response to international pressure, those under 15 were not sent to the fields in 2012 or 2013.
Instead of blanket promises not to use Uzbek cotton, however, corporate statements on the issue are guarded. The Walt Disney Company is typical. It says it asks suppliers to make “their best efforts” to not use Uzbek cotton, and that “we have no knowledge to date of Uzbek cotton being used in any of our branded products”.
Silvia Raccagni, Adidas sustainability communication manager, is similarly cautious. Adidas cannot offer any guarantee about Uzbek cotton. “We have reminded our suppliers that we expect them to ensure, to the best of their knowledge, that no cotton and cotton materials used originate from Uzbekistan,” Raccagni says. In the meantime, Adidas is “further maturing the traceability of our material”.
Lorenz Berzau, managing director of the Business Social Compliance Initiative, which coordinates a supply chain code of conduct for companies sourcing from the emerging and developing world, says this simply reflects...