Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev announced that roughly $1 billion worth of textile products have been shipped this year and that sales are expected to increase, making Uzbekistan the world’s fifth largest producer of cotton. Some 3.3 million tons of cotton were produced last year, but Western powers like the United States have been adamant in their criticism of the government run industry, citing its use of forced child labor throughout the population to complete the harvest. While the Uzbek government has repeatedly denied claims of coercion, in the past it did indicate it would bring labor standards into compliance with conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO). 2013 was the first time schools remained open during harvest periods so that most students would not be obliged to participate.
However, a number of US-based groups cite claims to the contrary. Among them is the US Department of State which asserts that “no advancement has been made in Uzbekistan” on forced labor, including those of children – stated in a report made jointly between the US Department of Labor and State called “Findings not eh Worst Forms of Child Labor.” Other groups, such as Human Rights Watch and the Cotton Campaign, have attempted to convince international retailers and clothing manufacturers to desist from sourcing Uzbek cotton. The most recent signatory of the list is British retailer Tesco. Most of the undersigned companies, however, are not the main customers of Uzbek cotton as most shipments head farther East, to Korea and China. Uzbekistan’s announcement of revenues occurred shortly after the US denouncement, suggesting a defensive posture on the issue.
In addition to the international concern, an enormous cotton harvest in the United States and Australia have created an huge surplus in the market, dropping prices to their lowest levels in five years as of last July. As the harvest is ending, prices are beginning to creep back up again, but surplus supply is still keeping revenues low. Global demand is also extremely low due to a concerted campaign by the Chinese government to stockpile its supply over two and a half years, causing a record amount of stored cotton worldwide.
Follow us on Twitter: @SteppeDispatch
- Norwegian energy developer Statoil has sold its stake in the Shah Deniz gas field in Azerbaijan to Malaysian Petronas fro $2.25 billion, to “shore up returns to shareholders.” The deal will include the interest agreements originally set between SOCAR and Statoil of 15.5%. Statoil has been selling off its assets amid rising costs and rapidly plummeting oil prices, earlier selling another 10% stake in the Shah Deniz field. French oil major Total additionally sold out of Shah Deniz last May.
- Russia has surprisingly offered Ukraine a lenient (comparatively) payment schedule for its gas debts as winter looms over Europe and heating costs look to be particularly high this year. Russia said it is cutting the first debt payment from $2 billion to $1.45 billion said Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak. The proposal was sent on October 3 to Kiev, where it has yet to be accepted.
- Iran’s Research Institute of Petroleum Industry and SOCAR, Azerbaijan’s oil giant have come to terms on a deal that will see Baku collaborate more closely with Tehran in studies of joint gas and oil reservoirs in the Caspian Sea. Joint studies are expected to focus on producing an environmentally friendly extraction system and extraction efficiency systems.
- Tajik websites blocked by the government in light of anti-government protests have been made accessible again. Social media websites and knowledge-sharing hubs such as Wikipedia were blocked while a Tajik opposition movement called “Group 24” was using social media and SMS services to spread anti-government sentiment.
- Kazakhstan is poised to sell more than $100m in railway products that will facilitate railway construction efforts throughout Central Asia and beyond. Kazakh Development Minister Asset Issekeshev urged greater Kazakh affiliation with existing manufacturing and shipping giants in order to better promote Kazakh engineering products, and pledged state support for future export goals.
- Courts in China’s Xinjiang province sentenced an additional 12 suspected separatists to death on charges of terrorism stemming from attacks in July that left 37 dead. The court also sentenced an additional 15 to death, albeit with a two year reprieve, and an additional nine to life sentences. Ethnic tension between Uyghurs, the local Turkic minority, and ethnic Han Chinese has steadily risen as violence has continued throughout the restive province.