Wal-Mart says it has told its suppliers to stop buying cotton from Uzbekistan, in order to try and put an end to forced child labor in cotton harvesting.
"We have formed an unprecedented coalition, representing 90 percent of the U.S. purchases of cotton and cotton-based merchandise, to bring these appalling child-labor conditions to an end," Reuters quoted Rajan Kamalanathan, Wal-Mart's vice president of ethical standards, as saying.
This follows similar bans on Uzbek cotton
by the British chains Tesco and Debenhams, as well as Sweden's Henne and Mauritz.
Speaking to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service
, Juliette Williams of the Environmental and Justice Foundation in London says her group is "really delighted" at Wal-Mart's move, which she described as "unusually progressive action from a retailer."
Williams said that Uzbekistan is "really quite unusual in the scale of its production" and the fact that child labor is not a case of children helping their families earn money, but of "state-sponsored child labor," for the profit of the state itself.
She added that while similar practices have been eradicated in neighboring Central Asian countries, according to local sources the use of child labor has actually increased over the last five to 10 years, and that "there are more children working longer hours for less pay."