Guli on the NY Runway, Children in the Cotton Fields
Gulnara Karimova, the notorious daughter of President Islam Karimov, is in New York this week showing off her fashions. With the cutesie headline "Just Say Guli!" the Daily Front Row gives the "Princess of the Uzbeks" the soft touch, marveling about her Harvard master's degree and her many incarnations -- philanthropist, businesswoman, and Uzbekistan's ambassador to Spain.
"When do you have time to design?" gushes runway reporter Valentine Uhovski. Karimova of course has been busy attending economic conferences and writing geostrategic analysis for Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, but has had time to focus on fashion as well.
Karimova explains that she had to "build an infrastructure and put the right people in place" to take care of all her "big ideas". Zeromax, the multi-purpose Swiss-registered company, which served for a time as part of that infrastructure and the source of some of her wealth, was taken over by the government earlier this year. But that still leaves Karimova with her foundation, which was at the center of controversy earlier this year when she donated to a Cannes Film Festival AIDS benefit and faced probing questions about the jailing of Maxim Popov, a youth advocate and HIV/AIDS educator in Uzbekistan.
Karimova is taking part in the Mercedes-Benz Fashon Week with a collection already shown in Milan, an admits that the fashion scene in Uzbekistan is new and just taking "baby steps".
Not mentioned was the cotton industry behind Uzbekistan's and some of the world's fashions, despite the growing global boycott of Uzbek textiles due to the practice of forced child labor used to pick cotton in Uzbekistan.
Human rights activists are concerned that as the cotton season opens this week, once again, due to the climate of coercion created by government quotas and forced labor of state employees, children as well as adults will be exploited.
Radio Ozodlik, the Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, has learned that starting September 7, middle school students have been brought in to pick cotton in some districts of the Syrdarya region, ca-news.org reported. Israel Rizayev, head of the Syrdarya section of the Ezgulik (Charity) human rights group, reports that all the schools were closed Tuesday.
"On the morning of September 7, the children went to school in their uniforms, then returned after the first lesson, and went to pick cotton in nearby fields," says Rizayev. Students and teachers from colleges in Syrdarya were also forced to turn out for the harvest.
Farmers interviewed by Radio Ozodlik said "without bringing in children, we don't see that it's possible to bring in the harvest." They say that due to favorable weather, the harvest is likely to be more abundant than in past years.
A number of Western companies have announced a boycott of Uzbek cotton, including Marks & Spencer, Target, Gap, C&A, H&M, Wal-Mart and Tesco.
The U.S. Department of Labor has prohibited the acquisition of cotton from Uzbekistan due to the use of forced child labor.