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U.S. Lifts Uzbek Cotton Ban, Saying Forced Child Labor 'Significantly Reduced'

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Uzbekistan for decades has mobilized students as well as staff at schools and medical clinics and hospitals to pick cotton. (file photo)

The United States has removed Uzbek cotton from a list of products that are produced with forced child labor.

Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry welcomed the change in a statement issued on March 27.

In a notice in the Federal Register on March 25, the U.S. Labor Department said it was removing Uzbek cotton from a list of products that U.S. authorities have "a reasonable basis to believe might have been mined, produced, or manufactured by forced or indentured child labor."*

It said that following a review, the Labor Department, the State Department, and the Department of Homeland Security "have determined that the use of forced child labor in the cotton harvest in Uzbekistan has been significantly reduced to isolated incidents."

Goods on the list are not banned from the United States, but U.S. government contractors that import them are required to certify that they have made a "good faith effort to determine whether forced or indentured child labor was used to mine, produce, or manufacture" the goods.

Meanwhile, Uzbek cotton remains on the Labor Department's list of goods produced with forced labor or child labor -- as opposed to the narrower category of forced child labor.

For many years, Uzbek authorities regularly forced children to pick cotton, one of the Central Asian country's biggest exports, but forced child labor in the cotton fields has decreased in recent years amid persistent pressure from human rights groups.

In May 2018, President Shavkat Mirziyoev's government issued a decree aimed at completely ending forced labor. Rights groups say that despite improvements, the practice has continued in the cotton industry and other sectors.

Mirziyoev has undertaken reforms since he came to power following more than two decades of repressive rule under Islam Karimov, whose death was reported on September 2, 2016.

Mirziyoev used his UN General Assembly speech in September 2017 to address the problem of forced labor in Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan is the fifth largest cotton producer in the world. It exports about 60 percent of its raw cotton to China, Bangladesh, Turkey, and Iran.

Uzbekistan’s cotton industry generates more than $1 billion in annual revenue, or about a quarter of the country's gross domestic product.

*This story has been corrected to clarify that goods on the list are not banned from the United States.
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