„There’s still a chance!“

Human Rights Watch is trying to fight for labor rights in indigent countries, such as Uzbekistan. Hugh Williamson is the director of the Europe and Central Asia division and talked to me about HWR’s aims and how we could help to make a difference.


How do you convince people to show more interest concerning sustainability in fashion?

From my point of view, working for Human Rights Organization I would give them examples of where human rights abuses are linked to the fashion industry, such as the forced labor involved in growing cotton in Uzbekistan. I would give them examples and encourage them to think about where their clothes come from and the cotton which is in their clothes.


Your aim is to stop hard labor in Uzbekistan on cotton fields.

Yes, that’s one of the focusses on my work to stop forced labor in cotton fields in Uzbekistan.


How do you plan on achieving your aim to stop forced labor?

We aim to achieve that by documenting forced labor, for example. We travel to Uzbekistan to find examples of forced labor in the cotton fields. There are many examples of up to 1 million people per year who are involved in being forced to pick cotton. We also write reports about it, drawing it to the attention of the government, international media and other groups and putting pressure on Uzbekistan to stop the system.


You had a chance to get an idea of the local situation in Uzbekistan.

Yes, Uzbekistan is a country where Human Rights Watch has been researching abuses for many years and I recently went to Uzbekistan in September.


Is there any chance for Uzbekistan to ease their human rights or is that even achievable?

There is a chance. It’s a country with a terrible human rights record but since 2016 there is a new president in the country. He has made some small improvements on human rights. It is still a very repressive government but there are some small changes including the issue of forced labor. This is an opportunity for groups like Human Rights Watch and others to include our campaigning and increase our pressure on the government to try to improve the human rights situation in the country. So yes, there is a chance indeed.


What concrete measures can be done to stop forced labor?

You can help raise awareness about the issue. You can do that by getting interested in issues, finding out about the research we’ve done or other groups have done. Share the information on social media with your friends and family. Draw attention to it in society. You can also raise it with politicians. Human Rights Watch raises these issues with the government in the Bundestag. We would look for politicians. You could also join a campaigning organization. They raise these issues with your local politicians or with national politicians to put it on their agenda. Because then they’re more likely to act, if they know their ordinary citizens are also concerned about where their clothes and the cotton comes from. Raise it also in consumer organizations if you are part of a group which is concerned about the fashion industry. Also, raise it among the people who are also concerned and interested in fashion related issues.