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Uzbekistan Holds Cotton Fair Despite Ongoing Boycott

Uzbek schoolchildren in the Ferghana Valley pick cotton last month.
Uzbekistan has opened its seventh International Cotton and Textile Fair in Tashkent with some 330 companies from 38 countries sending representatives, even as others boycott the event, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported.

The event's website said that the "primary goal of such an endeavor is to further expand long-term cooperation with international organizations and foreign companies."

It said delegates at the fair would be able to examine "more than 800 varieties of Uzbek cotton fibers."

But many international companies are staying away from the fair. More than 60 companies worldwide have announced a boycott of Uzbek cotton, which rights groups say is often picked by children in violation of child-labor laws.

There are also many reports of secondary and university students along with some professionals being "volunteered" to harvest cotton instead of attending school or working.

The campaign against purchasing Uzbek cotton has seen increased support among Western companies in recent years with well-known brands such as Burberry, Levi's, H&M, and others publicly vowing to avoid knowingly buy it.

Other companies, however, have not been deterred from placing orders for Uzbekistan's "white gold."

Russian-based companies reportedly buy some 40 percent of Uzbekistan's cotton with companies from China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates placing orders for the bulk of the remaining 60 percent.

Uzbekistan's sales of cotton from the 2010 cotton fair amounted to some $500 million.

The cotton fair ends on October 13.

Read more in Uzbek here