Apparel Sourcing Intelligence - Worldwide

It’s tough being Uzbek

You really have to feel for Islam Karimov, president of Uzbekistan.

In his home, he’s not a good choice of enemy. Subjects of his who fall out with him have a nasty habit of getting boiled alive. So what he says goes – and more important, no Uzbek questions him. As a loyal ally in the War Against Terror, the US Administration doesn’t want to cross him.

But has he now met his match? In early September he issued a decree that no more child labour should be used in Uzbekistan’s cotton harvests. Not his first decree against child labour – and very possibly no more likely to be enforced than his other meaningless decrees. But, in a country where the Great Leader doesn’t get questioned, just issuing a decree’s enough, isn’t it?

Apparently not. No sooner had the decree been publicised than local sneaks started saying the laws were being flouted out in the deep countryside And Wal-Mart – the world’s largest apparel retailer – announced they weren’t going to let any Uzbek cotton in their stores until thre was clear evidence Karimov’s decrees were more than just hot air. Which makes it pretty likely Tesco, M&S, Gap and Hennes will keep on boycottiong Uzbek cotton too.

Now if you’re an autocratic thug whose word is law in your own country, that country’s main export is cotton, and the world’s largest sellers of cotton products all agree your word’s not to be trusted, what do you do?

You can’t easily boil up a few barrels of water and tell all the CEO’s of the world’s major clothing retailers to stay in them till they get nice and pink. You can’t admit to your people you’ve got to bend to the will of a few shopkeepers. And you really can’t let this year’s cotton harvest be stuck in Uzbekistan, earning no money.

Tough at the top, isn’t it? In the long term, my money’s on the retailers. But I’d be very leery of anyone suddenly selling more clothes with a “made in Turkey” label. Because my money’s also on Mr Carry Em Off thinking he can use all those Turkish-owned plants in Uzbekistan to pretend his cotton someone else’s