The Cotton Campaign is ending its more than decade-long call for a boycott of cotton from Uzbekistan as of March 10. The international advocacy coalition, which is a partner of the Forum for Human Rights, has asked companies worldwide to refrain from sourcing cotton from the Central Asian country since 2009, due to systemic issues of forced labor.

Over that time, the Cotton Campaign convinced 331 companies to sign the Uzbek Cotton Pledge, committing to refrain from sourcing cotton from the country as a means to pressuring the Uzbek government into implementing change. That boycott is no longer necessary, according to the organization, after a report found no evidence of central government-imposed forced labor in the country’s 2021 harvest.

“After encouraging hundreds of companies to avoid Uzbek cotton over the past 12 years, we’re happy to announce the time has come to lift the Uzbek Cotton Pledge,” says Patricia Jurewicz, CEO of Responsible Sourcing Network and Cotton Campaign co-founder. 

The finding reinforced the potential power of international advocacy programs and the possibility of change through collective action by companies.

While the Forum for Human Rights saw drastic improvements in the country’s systemic forced labor, it does not mean that individual instances of such atrocities do not still occur in Uzbekistan. The Cotton Campaign strongly encourages companies to do their own due diligence while making policy decisions regarding sourcing in the region.

This is an important distinction for companies in the promotional product industry to make when sourcing internationally. A boycott from a credible advocacy organization can provide a convenient framework from which to make ethical sourcing decision. But doing everything within a company’s power to make sure that fair labor practices are used in the sourcing of a product is a standard that all companies should be holding themselves to.

“Today we are celebrating, but our work continues to help build a fair and humane industry going forward,” says Allison Gill, Cotton Campaign Steering Committee member and Forced Labor Program Director for GLJ-Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum .