Last year an 18-year-old named Navruz Muyzinov was beaten to death by police in Uzbekistan. His only crime: getting sick and leaving the cotton field where he was working before he could meet his quota for picking cotton.
Sadly, Navruz’s story is not unique. Every year, more than a million men, women, and children in Uzbekistan are forced by their government to work in the state-run cotton harvest. Those who speak out or resist are routinely harassed, detained, and tortured.
The Uzbek regime can only get away with these crimes because a South Korean conglomerate called Daewoo International continues to buy slave-grown Uzbek cotton. Uzbek dissidents and human rights activists around the world have called on apparel companies to boycott Daewoo as long as it profits from slavery. Many retailers have agreed — but Nike has refused.
This isn’t the first time we’ve targeted big apparel brands that turn a blind eye to forced labor in the Uzbek cotton industry. Earlier this year, more than 70,000 SumOfUs.org members called on H&M to cut ties with Daewoo, and the company agreed, implementing a rule that prevented its suppliers from doing business with Daewoo.
Our friends at the International Labor Rights Forum tell us that Daewoo is already panicking about the rising global outcry over its dealings in Uzbekistan. If we can get another high-profile company to cut ties, Daewoo will have to seriously reconsider doing business with the repressive government of Uzbekistan. Daewoo’s cotton processing facilities are vital to the state-run cotton industry in Uzbekistan, so if it pulls out it will deal a huge blow to the ability of the country’s leaders to profit from forced labor. And we already know that we can make corporations listen.
Nike promised to help eliminate forced labor in the Uzbek cotton industry, but the International Labor Rights Forum caught it purchasing from a Daewoo factory, despite the call for a boycott. Nike has spent more than a decade trying to reassure customers about how it treats workers in its supply chain — if Nike expects us to take its promises seriously, it needs to institute stricter rules ensuring that it doesn’t do any business with companies that are profiting from slavery.
Thanks for your support,
Claiborne, Rob, and the team at SumOfUs.org
Nike is refusing to join a global boycott of companies that profit from slavery.
The sportswear giant could score a huge victory for human rights — but it will only act if consumers speak out!
Letter from Uzbek dissidents to Nike: Cut Ties with Slave Cotton companies, ILRF, April 17, 2013