The Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN) is quickly becoming the go-to place for informative and useful white papers and reports on supply chain management. In a follow-up to a 2012 report titled From the Field: Travels of Uzbek Cotton Through the Value Chain, the newest report focuses on forced and child labor in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan. It is estimated that over one million people in Uzbekistan fit into this category, roughly 3.5% of the total country population. Valentina Guerney, the Cotton Program Manager, and RSN director Patricia Jurewicz created To the Spinner: Forging a Chain to Responsible Cotton Sourcing to help brands and businesses understand the importance of traceability and transparency and eliminate problems from their value chain.
The main thrust of the report identifies the spinners — the person, company or industry that takes the raw materials and converts them into yarn or textile — as the key players in achieving responsible sourcing. Spinners must know where the cotton is grown as they are the ones who purchase it and receive shipments.
However, spinners must be incentivized to keep abusive cotton out of their factories. Fortunately, identifying materials sourced from Uzbekistan is remarkably easy and transparent. The country of origin is labeled on almost all transportation documents. Furthermore, almost all spinners in the U.S., Europe and Asia are open to sharing country of origin information on request, and of all of those contacted for this report, each made a commitment not to buy Uzbek cotton and can provide the documentation to prove it.
After discussions with the spinners, there are still several more steps a company can take to source responsibly. Identifying high-risk production regions is easy with the RSN and the U.S. Department of Labor supplying helpful lists. It is also helpful to incorporate forced labor and child labor policies into all documentation and agreement. This will help encourage other parts of the industry to also adopt these practices. Finally, creating a dialogue with spinners to foster trust and transparency is the best thing to do. If the spinners are educated on the risks of Uzbek cotton and are regularly audited to provide country of origin documentation, this problem is easily defeated.
For any brands interested in furthering the commitment to responsible cotton sourcing, the paper also encourages signing its “Cotton Pledge" against forced child and adult labor in Uzbek cotton. Through pledges such as these, companies can join with the RSN to increase transparency and eliminate forced and child labor in Uzbekistan.