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Gulnara Karimova, the oldest daughter of the long-time controversial leader of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, had planned to unveil her 2012 spring GULI clothing line this week at Lincoln Center at Fashion Week. But after human rights groups made it known they would be protesting the show over child labor practices in Uzbekistan, Fashion Week cancelled Karimova's show.
Now there's word that Karimova has relocated her show to a private venue — to Cipriani restaurant on 42nd St. Activists plan to gather there on Thursday to protest the GULI show.
"Instead of spending so much time and money on her runway show, she should stop trying to launder her image and be accountable for her government's dismal human rights record," said Steve Swerdlow, a researcher on Uzbekistan for Human Rights Watch. "The Uzbek government’s atrocious rights record is well-known, especially after this week’s news from Fashion Week [that Fashion Week cancelled the GULI show], and Cipriani can’t plead ignorance.“
Swerdlow said torture was routine in the Uzbek criminal justice system, dissidents were imprisoned and between one and two million children were pulled from school each fall to harvest cotton under horrible conditions.
The International Labor Rights Forum, a non-profit that advocates for workers' rights worldwide, and the American Federation of Teachers plan to turn out between 50 and 100 members for a protest at Lincoln Center on Thursday from 11 A.M. to 1 P.M. to urge the fashion industry to stop sourcing Uzbek cotton. The forum, which is also petitioning Cipriani, embassies and consulates to shut down Karimova's show, also has plans to send a delegation to Cipriani on Thursday.
"We have been very concerned for years about an ongoing state policy in Uzbekistan where children are removed from school during the cotton harvest season and forced to pick cotton to meet government imposed production quotas," said Tim Newman, campaigns director for the International Labor Rights Forum. "This is a very unique situation because it's state-sponsored, forced child labor and there are not many places in the world where that still exists."
Newman said that since Uzbekistan was one of the largest cotton exporters, it reaches the supply chains of many U.S. companies.
Earlier this week, more than 60 of the world's fashion companies, including high-end brands like Gucci and Alexander McQueen, as well as Wal-Mart and Target, signed a pledge saying they would oppose and not knowingly use Uzbek cotton harvested with forced child labor.
Karimova is also Uzbekistan's permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva and was named Uzbekistan's ambassador to Spain in 2010. In the past year, the Harvard grad drew media attention when she sang a duet under her nickname GooGoo'sha with Spanish singer Julio Iglesias. The former frontman of the Police, Sting, was criticized for performing at a fashion festival she organized in the Uzbek captial of Tashkent.
Human rights activists did not attend Karimova's New York Fashion Week debut in 2011.
Karimova, the Uzbek Consulate and Cipriani did not return WNYC's calls for comment. The organizers of Fashion Week, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and one of Fashion Week's sponsors, IMG World, declined to comment.