The European Parliament approved a textiles trade deal with Uzbekistan on December 14, ending a five-year stalemate after acknowledging the Central Asian country’s efforts to eradicate child labour.
EU lawmakers, however, also urged Uzbekistan to take steps to end all forms of forced labour, e.g. by students and civil servants, in its cotton harvest. “This consent is the result of the progress and commitments made by Uzbekistan in the fight against forced and child labour. But as adult forced labour remains a strong concern, we will follow the situation closely and if there are serious human rights violations or any regress on these issues, MEPs will not hesitate to ask the Council and the Commission to suspend the entire partnership agreement,” rapporteur Maria Arena (S&D, BE) said after the vote.
The draft recommendation was passed by 564 votes to 100, with 41 abstentions.
The parliament gave its consent to include textiles in the 1999 EU-Uzbekistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) to encourage the government’s efforts. The vote ends a five-year stalemate after put the deal on hold back in 2011 over fears about child and forced labour in the central Asian nation.
NGOs continue to reporting massive forced mobilisation of students and public employees during the Uzbek cotton harvest, as well as the interrogation of citizens who speak out about the harvest and the persecution of human rights defenders.
As one of the world’s largest cotton producers, Uzbekistan boasts an ample supply of fibre for textile manufacturing. Uzbekistan produces over 3m tonnes of raw cotton and 1m tonnes of cotton fibre annually. About 200 global apparel brands have signed a compact not to use Uzbek cotton in their supply chains.
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