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Uzbekistan ends cotton controls, could reduce forced labor

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan (AP) — The president of Uzbekistan has abolished state regulation of cotton production and sales — a move seen as a significant step toward ending decades of forced labor in the country's cotton harvest.

President Shavkat Mirziyoyev's order on Friday ends state-established production targets. Jonas Astrup, an adviser for the International Labor Organization in Uzbekistan, told The Associated Press that local governments and other organizations were ordered to produce certain amounts and that they used forced labor to meet those targets.

Under dictator Islam Karimov, who died in 2016, more than 2 million Uzbeks were forced to work in the annual cotton harvest. It is a significant export that Uzbeks often call “white gold.” Mirziyoyev has implemented reforms since succeeding Karimov, but more than 100,000 forced laborers worked in last year's harvest, according to the ILO.

Uzbek cotton has been subject to boycotts by a number of international textile producers and countries, including the United States and the European Union. In 2007, a group of human rights organisations founded the Cotton Campaign, which aims to end human rights violations in Uzbekistan’s fields.

The Cotton Campaign will meet at the end of March to decide whether to end the boycott.

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