Daewoo is a South Korean company owned by steel-maker POSCO. It is also one of a shrinking number of companies that have yet to cut out the use of Uzbekistan cotton, which is raised and harvested using forced labor, The (Portland, Ore.) Oregonian reported Wednesday.
The letter posted online includes 141 signatures. It describes the death of an 18-year-old cotton picker named Navruz Muyzinov, who was working in his mothers stead, but left the cotton fields before he had picked his quota for the day, because he was feeling ill.
On his way home, he was confronted by two police officers, who quarreled with Muyzinov and then beat him so severely he died in a hospital that evening.
Under threat of expulsion from school, loss of jobs and deprivation of public benefits, Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov has for decades forced millions of people to work to work picking cotton, including children, The Oregonian said.
Nike, the newspaper said, buys only synthetic material from Daewoo, but continues to do business with the company.
"Nike claims to be a champion of human rights. But Nike's decision to protect Daewoo sends a dangerous message to other companies and damages the efforts of Uzbek citizens who have risked their lives to bring justice to Uzbekistan's cotton fields," said Ruslan Nurullaev, Human Rights Initiative Officer for AwarenessProjects.org.
Nike did not respond to a request for a comment, the newspaper said.