Campbell applauds the decision to downgrade Uzbekistan, but that “is only the beginning,” he notes. “It is vital that the U.S. government now use all the legal tools at its disposal, including the economic sanctions unleashed by the downgrade decision, to ensure that the government of Uzbekistan and the cotton companies with whom they do business stop profiting from forced labor.”
Campbell’s group has also worked with companies in attempts to decrease the dependence on Uzbekistan cotton in the global supply chain. Campbell points out that there are ways for the U.S. government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to identify when companies are using cotton that initially came from Uzbekistan, but he notes that it is ultimately up to the companies to be responsible and to take charge of their own supply chains. “There’s a brand reputation issue certainly, and I’m sure that that’s [at the] top of their concerns…. I think the secondary concern is that if Uzbekistan cotton is identified in the finished product and they continue to source from those same people, that might open them up to legal liability, because they would now be on notice that there is a forced-labor-made product coming into the supply chain,” Campbell says.
He says some companies, such as H&M, have been proactive about not using Uzbekistan cotton. “If you take immediate action, it’s less likely you’re going to have legal action taken against you. Prosecutors can be quite overburdened, and I would imagine that they would look kindly upon that,” Campbell says.
Lagon cites Russia as the country that is most markedly going backwards in the issue of helping trafficking victims. “The story today is migrant workers from neighboring countries flowing into Russia [and] getting exploited in forced labor…. The relative strength of the Russian economy in the region [and] the energy resource have meant that it’s been a magnet [for workers], and the lack of rule of law has meant that there are many exploited,” Lagon says.
Additionally, with the construction well underway for structures to use during the Sochi Olympics in Russia next winter, the problems of forced labor on construction crews and sex-trafficking spikes related to the Olympics are particularly troubling.
As Campbell and Lagon indicate, the rankings alone, while potentially effective, are not enough to eradicate the problem. “Laws may exist in countries, and they may ratify treaties. But actually punishing the traffickers and, more importantly, re-empowering the victims sometimes doesn’t happen,” says Lagon.