Are European cotton dealers responsible for child labour? ECCHR complains at OECD

The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and some partners filed an OECD complaint against seven European cotton dealers (Paul Reinhart AG, ECOM Agroindustrial Corp Ltd., Devot S.A., Otto Stadtlander GmbH and three UK-based companies) for breaching the OECD rules for MNCs by (indirectly) supporting the maintainance of a state-driven system of child labour in Uzbekistan.

Photo: Hans Peter Jost

In the background paper the organizations criticize that the (authoritarian) state of Uzbekistan systematically and comprehensively uses child labour in the cotton fields: “Children aged 10 or more are regularly sent out to work in the harvest. … It is estimated that around 57% of the entire Uzbek harvest during the 2006/2007 season was gathered by children aged between 5 and 11”. These problems in the Uzbek cotton field are not new, and there have already been some attempts at mediation at EU, UN and other levels.

The OECD complaint against the relatively unknown cotton traders was filed also to highlight the role of the cotton traders in the maintainance of the state-driven child labour system in Uzbekistan. The traders, who “have close long-standing trading relationship with Uzbek state owned cotton companies, play an important part in the maintenance of the system of forced child labour in Uzbekistan.” By purchasing the cotton, they “ensure that such trade remains lucrative for the Uzbek Government, which is able to skim off almost all of the profit.”

Who should the traders react? This is what ECCHR demands from the cotton traders (sorry I am lazy translating):

1. Boykott cotton from child labour: Die Unternehmen sollten sich darauf festlegen, keine usbekische Baumwolle in ihrer Lieferkette zuzulassen, solange der Einsatz von Kinderarbeit im usbekischen Baumwollsektor andauert.
2. Support that Uesbekistan allows ILO delegation: Die Unternehmen sollten sich dafür einsetzen, dass Usbekistan den Einsatz einer Kommission der Internationalen Arbeitsorganisation während der Ernte 2011 akzeptiert.
3. Pressurize Uesbek Government: Die Unternehmen sollten mit allen erdenklichen Mitteln auf die usbekische Regierung einwirken, keine Kinderarbeit einzusetzen: Unternehmen können Druck auf die usbekische Regierung ausüben, indem sie sich mit anderen Unternehmen in diesem Sektor zusammentun. Darüber hinaus können sie Druck auf ihre Heimatstaaten ausüben, Usbekistan entsprechend zu beeinflussen.
4. Make cotton purchases from Uesbekistan transparent: Die Unternehmen sollten offenlegen, wie viel Baumwolle sie jährlich aus Usbekistan beziehen. Auch sollten sie ihre Abnehmer öffentlich bekanntmachen.

3 Comments on “Are European cotton dealers responsible for child labour? ECCHR complains at OECD”

  1. Mark says:

    Yesterday, the German ARD program “Fakt” showed an interesting 6-minute TV-report about this issue. You can stream it here: There shall also be a follow-up in the Spiegel this week.

  2. Doug Miller says:

    Hi Mark

    Can you provide us with the names of the 3 UK Cotton distributors?



  3. Mark says:

    Here is an article from a Swiss Newspaper, who tried to talk to the Swiss traders: The Reinhart AG does not comment the complaint. ECOM argues that a boycott would only punish the Uzbek population. True, boycotts are not the best solution. But supporting a wrong system is surely not better. If the cotton traders do not pull out, they must bring up some mediation. What do they do? What should they do?

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