Joanna Lillis highlights some important facts about sales of Uzbekistan’s cotton on the world market.
Russian buyers purchased 40 percent of the cotton available at the Tashkent trade fair and the rest went to buyers from China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Japan, UAE, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, South Korea and Singapore. Companies in most of these countries are evidently not subject to the type of consumer pressure that persuaded Western retailers to sign the boycott.
Then how effective is the campaign? According to data from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), even before the boycott Uzbek cotton was mainly exported to non-Western destinations, with 60 percent going to developing countries, 17 percent to countries in transition and 23 percent to the developed world.
Doesn’t she know that asking questions about effectiveness is the quickest way to get labeled as… Hold on… Let me check old emails… There we go. Some examples include “on Karimov’s payroll;” “on the payroll of [insert name of various western companies doing business in Central Asia];” “a spokesman for Bush/Cheney/the Pentagon/etc.” One practically has to disclose one’s bank records to dare suggest a human rights campaign might not be worth the time.
Across the political spectrum, one can easily find bad prescriptions for dealing with Uzbekistan based on gross over-simplifications and mischaracterizations of Uzbekistan’s problems and the prospects for improving them. To paraphrase someone for whom I once had the misfortune of working, we need to embrace the whole damned complicated mess of facts surrounding Uzbekistan in order to have a serious conversation about how to really deal with the country in a way that might begin to turn it in the right direction.
Joanna’s story on the cotton fair highlights the biggest difficulty in trying to reduce the use of child labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry — the West lacks the leverage to deny income to those who profit from exploiting children. That doesn’t mean the boycott campaign is utterly worthless, but it does mean it is unlikely to have anything more than a very small impact.
We keep seeing this. Protests in New York accomplish nothing. A Western boycott is unlikely to accomplish much. Adversarial bilateral relations appear to actually make things worse. If one actually does care about improving the situation in Uzbekistan, facing the bleak landscape of choices is the only responsible thing to do.
For what it’s worth, Secretary Clinton has a decent explanation for the US relationship with Uzbekistan: engagement achieves at least some influence, which creates opportunities to create at least some good.