Dan Patterson is an American businessman originally from Mississippi who is running Silverleafe, one of the first textile “clusters” in Uzbekistan. For the first time in years, clusters like Patterson’s are making it possible to source cotton from Uzbekistan with 100 percent assurance in traceability from field to shelf.
Silverleafe’s cotton farm, one of the most advanced in the country, is adjacent to the M39 highway which runs the route of the old “silk road” from Tashkent to Jizzakh. It is a fully mechanized operation, using new John Deere equipment outfitted with digital blockchain technology that tracks a dizzying array of data about each harvest. Using this system, Patterson can track which part of which field a cotton bale was harvested from, how much rain it got during the growing season, when it was picked and much more.
But, the cotton field is just the first stop in the complex global supply chain. The textile “cluster” approach helps suppliers navigate harvesting, to ginning, to spinning, weaving and knitting, processing, and manufacturing. It is a way for the different parts of the privatized system to work together in an organized way to replace an old and outdated agricultural economy that was centralized and controlled entirely by the government. Moreover, it provides a way for international buyers to work within a defined organizational structure.
Patterson envisions the Silverleafe cluster distribution network concept in the form of a “bowtie,” with buyers on one end, suppliers on the other and specialized knowledge and quality assurance in the middle.
Today, the Silverleaf cluster is set up to deliver cotton from one of the world’s richest cotton producing countries to markets in Europe and North America that have been closed for years due to concerns about the use of forced labor in the harvest.
Uzbekistan has come a long way in just four years to get to this point. When the country gained independence in 1991, the Soviet knowledge base left with it. Farming techniques did not keep up. There was an increasing reliance on human labor. The government resorted to extraordinary measures just to try and make ends meet. But, it didn’t work. And, western brands could not abide human rights violations which led to an international boycott that has lasted more than a decade.
In 2017, however, the Uzbek government did an unprecedented about-face, launching a massive reform program that touched all parts of society. That’s where the cluster system was formed and developed.
Patterson is eager to champion the new program in Uzbekistan due to his family’s previous history in the country. His company has produced several YouTube videos on their operations in Jizzakh, and he is an active member of the American Uzbek Chamber of Commerce, headquartered in Washington, DC.
On April 8, he is participating in a webinar hosted by the Chamber with the International Labour Organization’s, Chief Technical Officer based in Tashkent, Jonas Astrup, who has been independently monitoring the labor situation in Uzbekistan for years. The ILO’s most recent report credits the reform program for eliminating systematic and systemic use of child and forced labor and encourages American and European brands to begin working with clusters like Silverleafe to introduce new modern techniques and ensure forced labor is gone from Uzbekistan for good.