UZBEKISTAN: Fashion show of dictator's daughter cancelled amid child slavery protests

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Summary: Human rights campaigners protest against child labour in Uzbekistan outside Gulnara Karimova's private fashion show.

[15 September 2011] - With its art deco frontage and celebrity clientele, it was an unlikely venue for a clash between human rights campaigners and the "single most hated person" of a former Soviet republic.

But on Thursday, anti-child labour protesters gathered on the pavement outside Cipriani's, one of New York's most exclusive restaurants, where the president of Uzbekistan's eldest daughter, Gulnara Karimova, organised a catwalk show for her latest clothing collection.

After similar protests days earlier, IMG, the organisers of New York fashion week, cancelled a scheduled show by Karimova, who runs the label Guli. Undeterred, Karimova, who has been fêted as dictatorial president Islam Karimov's likely successor, attempted to save face by moving her catwalk show to a private venue.

If her backers hoped to avoid a demonstration, however, they failed.

Impeccably dressed fashionistas who turned up at Cipriani's faced anti-child labour activists chanting slogans, waving banners and handing out leaflets, while extra security slowed the activists' progress inside by checking their passes. The enthusiasm of security guards, specially drafted in for the event, also affected Guli's publicity, as some fashion magazine photographers covering the event were refused entry.

One protester, from the Uzbek People's Movement, held a placard declaring: "I always dream about going to the park with my mum and dad, but I've got to pick cotton for Gulnora Karimova's fashion week." 

Uzbekistan, one of the largest cotton-producing countries in the world, habitually removes up to 2 million children from schools across the country and forces them to gather the cotton harvest, according to the International Labor Rights Forum

Yusuf Sabirov, 45, said that his 16-year-old daughter, Madina, who attends college in Uzbekistan, is forced to pick cotton every afternoon or her college will throw her out.

"It is back-breaking work, very, very hard, and most children have to work from sunrise to sunset every day until the harvest is finished. No weekends, nothing, for two or three months. A child can pick up... about $5 – if they work very hard. If I protest about my child, I will get thrown in jail. But I have a chance to protest here." 

Abby Mills, of the American Federation of Teachers, said: "Despite the IMG uninviting her, Karimova has refused to back down, and she has the funds to stage a private show at a place like Cipriani's. We cannot let her slip out of the spotlight to a different location when there are children as young as 13 forced to pick cotton as we speak. They are kicked out of school, forced to work and make less than $5 a day." 

Asked what she made of the protest, one invitee, who did not want to be named, said: "It's unfortunate what's happening in Uzbekistan. Her father's reputation is not good, but she [Gulnora] wants to change things."

Karimova, who was not believed to have attended her own show, has held several high-level positions in her father's government, which has been criticised for its record on human rights.

On the international scene, the 39-year-old Karimova is known as a fashionable jet-setter, who even had a pop career as GooGoosha, most famously singing a duet with Spanish crooner Julio Inglesias.

In Uzbekistan, Karimova has a carefully managed reputation as an accomplished diplomat, academic, and charitable giver, and women's and children's rights advocate, but according to US cables published by WikiLeaks and the Guardian – which paint her as a likely successor to her father – she remains the "single most hated person in the country" who is viewed as something of a "robber baron."

Reid Maki of the Child Labor Coalition said: "We want the world to know what's going on in Uzbekistan, and we want the Uzbek government to know child labour it is not acceptable."

Last week, organisers of the New York event, IMG said: "As a result of various concerns raised, we have cancelled the Guli show on 15 September."

 

Further Information: 

pdf: http://www.guardian.co.uk/fashion/blog/2011/sep/15/new-york-fashion-kari...

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