For EILEEN FISHER, going all organic would be the perfect eco-ethical solution. When we cannot attain that goal because certain suppliers do not work with organic cotton, we would like to source only traceable cotton. This will be a major step for our company and we are exploring what it means for our supply chain.

Uzbek Cotton The Issue
EILEEN FISHER is concerned about the systematic and widespread use of forced labor and child labor in Uzbek cotton production. According to the Responsible Sourcing Network, every fall, the Uzbek government shuts down schools for months at a time and forces one-third of Uzbeks--including two million children, plus teachers and civil servants--to work in the government-run cotton industry. The use of forced labor, especially child labor, anywhere in our supply chain is unacceptable to EILEEN FISHER. It is also a clear violation of SA8000 and the ETI Base Code.

In addition to labor infringements, Uzbekistan's cotton industry is creating immeasurable damage to the environment and to its citizens' health. Its cotton irrigation and drainage systems have all but eradicated the Aral Sea, once the fourth largest lake in the world. Eighty-five percent of the water from the Aral Sea has been drained in order to irrigate cotton fields, causing a 600 percent increase in the salinity of the local water and permanently damaging the irrigated soil and local ecosystems. A surplus of salt in the soil, along with pesticide residue, creates toxic dust that causes harmful lung diseases and bronchial asthma among the Uzbek people.

How EILEEN FISHER is Taking Action
Most of our cotton is organic. When we examine products that are at least 85 percent cotton, the numbers are impressive: 80 percent of these tops, sweaters, dresses and pants use organic cotton. However, we do blend standard cotton in smaller percentages into a variety of knits and wovens. While we have always collected information about the countries of origin for all of our fabrics and yarns, in 2010 we began further investigating the origins of our nonorganic cotton.

We have requested that our vendors and mills worldwide clearly state the origin of any nonorganic cotton fiber or cotton-based products used in EILEEN FISHER merchandise. A small number of our suppliers do source from what are widely considered "high-risk" countries. We are trying to determine the source of our supply down to the farm level and have warned our vendors that if cotton from Uzbekistan is found, we expect them to replace the supply with cotton from ethical sources, or they will lose our business. This will remain our position until there is clear evidence of a change in Uzbekistan's cotton industry.

In order to avoid inadvertently buying Uzbek cotton, our manufacturing and design teams are surveying our suppliers before a bulk order is placed. We are attempting to weed out any cotton fiber that is considered "high risk" and to educate our suppliers about the issue.

Our Next Goals
For EILEEN FISHER, going all organic would be the perfect eco-ethical solution. When we cannot achieve that goal because our supplier does not work with organic cotton, we intend to source only traceable cotton. This will be a major step for our company and we are currently exploring what it means for our supply chain.

In addition, we are partnering with the Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN) (http://www.sourcingnetwork.org/programs/), an NGO and a socially responsible investor that works with a variety of stakeholders, to apply pressure on the Uzbek government to end the exploitation of children and other workers during their cotton harvest. EILEEN FISHER is also a signatory of the Responsible Sourcing Network's Company Pledge against Forced Child Labor in Uzbekistan Cotton.

Resources
For a list of companies that have taken action on this issue, please refer to: http://www.laborrights.org/stop-child-forced-labor/cotton-campaign/company-response-to-forced-child-labor-in-uzbek-cotton

To learn more about the Responsible Sourcing Network and their collaborative initiatives to end forced labor in Uzbekistan, please refer to: http://www.sourcingnetwork.org/cotton/

We also recommend watching "White Gold – The True Cost of Cotton" an award-winning short film.

For further information regarding conditions in Uzbekistan's cotton industry, please refer to:
http://www.ejfoundation.org/page141.html.
http://www.cottoncampaign.org/
http://www.soas.ac.uk/cccac/events/cotton-sector-in-central-asia-2005/file49842.pdf
http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/164458.pdf
http://uzbekgermanforum.org/