Government-approved Child Labor

Levi Strauss & Co.
June 9, 2010

My 9-year-old son’s list of daily tasks is pretty brief. Make your bed. Feed the dog. Do your homework. Pick up after yourself.

Simple stuff.

If we lived in Uzbekistan, it could be a different story.

Each fall, the Uzbekistan government closes schools and forces more than one million children to work in the country’s cotton fields.

This is child labor, driven not by poverty, but by government policy.

And why? It earns the government more than $1 billion annually.

Tomorrow, June 12, is World Day Against Child Labor. If you’re a citizen of the developed world, it may seem like a distant problem. But remember what’s happening in Uzbekistan … and think about what happens with cotton once harvested.

It’s often made into clothing – like khakis, shirts and jeans.

That brief list of products should tell you why Levi Strauss & Co. cares about what’s happening in Uzbekistan: We don’t want cotton textiles made with child labor used in our products. That’s why we’ve prohibited the use of cotton from Uzbekistan since 2008, when credible sources brought this issue to our attention.

We were the first U.S. apparel brand and/or retailer to prohibit the use of Uzbek cotton in its supply chain, and we’re proud that others have joined us.

But the fact is prohibiting the use of Uzbek cotton in our products is difficult to verify. As a commodity, cotton is challenging to trace as it moves from farm to textile mill to garment factory. We’re working closely with experts in supply chain traceability to address this challenge. It’s important to us as a company, to those of us who work here, and to our customers.

My uncle was a cotton farmer in West Texas. It’s difficult, backbreaking work – for an adult. From my perspective, forcing children to do this kind of hard labor is cruel, especially when you’re depriving them of an education in the process.

Our hope at Levi Strauss & Co. is that, with mounting international awareness and advocacy, we will see real change by the Uzbek government to end the practice of forced child labor in Uzbekistan.

As my son grows, his daily chores will change. Still, he and I can both be thankful that his tasks will never be anything like those currently faced by the children in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan.