The True Cost of Cotton
16th September 2011 to 2nd September 2012
, Albert Dock
A disturbing report from the Environmental Justice Foundation inspires
this exhibition, depicting the use of child labour in cotton production
in Uzbekistan. It shows how schools are forced to close for months at
a time as children are dragged to the cotton fields, along with teachers,
to fulfil government quotas. Forced to work long 18hr days and sleep rough
in windowless shacks and barracks, they then have to pay for the scraps
of low quality food they get out of their own measly wages.
Water has disappeared due to the excessive over-production of cotton
and 60% leaking from pipes; cancer and TB also occurs as a direct result
from the chemical processes involved. Since the 70s, the Aral Sea has
completely dried up and continual dust storms blow around towns everyday,
the once prosperous seaports reliant on fishing now have nothing left.
The industry lacks machinery and 90% of the cotton is gathered by hand
due to underinvestment, which is why the cheap labour of children is utilized.
Teachers who oppose this are coerced and their jobs threatened, farmers
are underpaid and the government dictates the rate of pay through their
set price quotas, bankrupting many of the already poor farmers. Karimov
and his government deal with critics in an authoritative fashion.
You’d be forgiven for thinking the South had won the Civil War
but this is happening now and we are currently wearing the goods derived
from it on our backs, White Gold indeed.
Children are given no proper protective clothing, no shoes adequate for
the terrain and their drinking water comes from pesticide infested irrigation
ditches, pure Dickensian style labour but this is organised by the government.
Schools need to reach a 11/2 tonne quota a day. They are the 6th largest
growers of cotton in the world and the 2nd largest exporter with a 1/3
of the population forced to work for it.
In 2005, a protest over the conditions in Andijan led to the machine-gunning
of protestors resulting in hundreds of casualties, how many saw that on
the news? Precisely! The account was filmed on a mobile but saw little
distribution in the West at the time. This was perhaps when Blair was
pally with several of the dictators in the area, agreeing to support his
phoney war on terror campaign and receiving Western aid while promising
to adhere to ILO (International Labour Organisation) labour regulations,
at least on paper that is. All was well. Or so it seemed.
The truth is harsh and vastly different to official accounts of the accords
at the top, struck between civil servants and the various mandarins of
power. The tabloids got hold of an account where one junior official in
the Blair cabinet was sacked for highlighting incidents where political
opposition critics were boiled in oil by some unsavoury bloodthirsty dictator
that Blair had signed up to the road show on terror. There are dictators
and there are evil dictators!
The exhibition sits well in the slavery museum; go and see it and then
think how you can stop it!