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Although Soviet-era collective farms were disbanded after Uzbekistan became independent in 1991, their land was never privatized, which leaves farmers in constant fear of sanctions and even court convictions for not meeting quotas for cotton, grain and silk cocoons, rights groups say. The Najot group said at least 20 farmers were imprisoned for terms of up to several years in 2009 alone.

“Farmers and agricultural workers earn low wages, which the state seldom pays on a regular basis,” said a 2009 U.S. State Department report on Uzbekistan. “The government controls the agriculture sector, dictates what farms grow and buys directly from the farmers to sell abroad.”

Uzbek Ipagi, the state-run monopoly, exports Uzbek silk to China, India, South Korea and Western Europe. Some stays in Uzbekistan to be woven into scarves or rugs at small factories and mainly sold to tourists.

They rarely reach Western stores. “I never saw any silk garment with a tag ‘Made in Uzbekistan‘” in U.S. stores, silk specialist Mr. Greiss said.