Uzbekistan would supply 200,000 metric tons of cotton to Bangladesh annually under the terms of a new bilateral agreement, Dhaka’s Financial Express newspaper reported on August 5. The deal, which would mark the first time Bangladeshi purchases of Uzbek cotton are regularized, may be signed during an annual industry fair in Tashkent this October, 12news.uz reports.
"Since Uzbekistan is a major source of cotton for us, we want to make the import process easier and uninterrupted. So, we are finalizing the draft of the MoU for signing as soon as possible,” the Financial Express quoted a Bangladeshi official as saying. The memorandum will ensure direct delivery of raw Uzbek cotton “on a regular basis,” the newspaper added.
Human rights groups say deals like this help Tashkent circumvent campaigns designed to end its reliance on forced child labor during the cotton harvest. Uzbekistan, the world’s sixth-largest cotton producer and third-largest exporter, earns over $1 billion from cotton exports annually.
According to the Cotton Campaign, the government forces over a million children and adults to pick cotton each autumn. Over 130 global apparel brands have signed the Responsible Sourcing Network’s pledge not to use Uzbek cotton.
These campaigns have forced many cotton traders from Western countries to abandon direct purchases of Uzbek cotton, prompting Tashkent to divert its supplies to Asian markets such as China, Bangladesh and South Korea, where it becomes harder to guarantee cotton used by international apparel manufacturers did not originate in Uzbekistan.
According to the Financial Express’ sources at the Bangladeshi Commerce Ministry, Uzbekistan accounts for 35 percent of Bangladeshi cotton imports. The new deal will save Bangladesh, which imports nearly 98 percent of the cotton its textile industry needs, from the hassles of signing cotton deals each year.
Last month, Anti-Slavery International said some global brands continue to refuse to eliminate forced child labor from their supply chain: Nike, a signatory to the Responsible Sourcing Network’s pledge, is reluctant to completely cut business ties with South Korea’s Daewoo International, which “is knowingly profiting from forced labor cotton in Uzbekistan,” the group said.