ECG classes open a world of opportunity

By Gregory Smith
April 14, 2014

I never thought I’d say that working on a group project for a class would lead to a pretty cool experience, but it did. My group for ECG is focusing on workers’ rights and fair trade in the clothing industry. This required a lot of research on the topic our group had chosen as well as interview sources. Surprisingly, this is where things started to get pretty cool.

While looking up information on cotton, I came across an article written by a New York Times correspondent out of Moscow, Russia. The article was about the cotton harvest in Uzbekistan and the forced labor used to harvest it, which seemed to fit in with our project very well. Just to see what would happen, I emailed the correspondent, a man named Andrew Kramer. I asked him if I could ask him a few questions about his article and his experiences while covering the Uzbekistan cotton harvest. To my surprise, he responded within a few hours, and we set up a time for an interview.

At first, I was just happy I was going to have a source for the project, but the more I thought about it, the more excited I became. I had just set up an interview with a reporter from the New York Times, one of the most reputable and well known newspapers in the world, and was about to interview someone who has had his articles read by hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world.

When the day of the interview came, I was nervous, but excited to talk to someone who had experienced the conflict firsthand. I dialed the phone number he gave me, a direct line to his office in Moscow, and within a few seconds I was speaking to Andrew Kramer. I began asking him questions such as, “What were your experiences with the people of Uzbekistan during the harvest?” and, “What made you want to cover this story?” From those questions, he began talking about the complexity of the issue; how the government was actually in charge of the harvest and the state of the economy. The harvest forced children out of school, nurses out of the office and other citizens to suddenly stop their everyday lives and dedicate it to the harvesting of cotton.

I found this mind-blowing. The government, the entity that is supposed to better the lives of its citizens, was making them worse. It is forcing its citizens to work with little or no pay. This was something that Andrew described as a “Direct economic result of a failed Soviet state.” Kramer went on to say that once the Soviet Union fell, it left all of the Soviet satellite states with no government to run them. They did what they could to stay afloat. This is why the government of Uzbekistan is using forced labor; because it’s a quick and easy way to make money.

Honestly, I was a little overwhelmed with everything he was talking about. The fact a country’s own government would do that to its citizens was mind-blowing. After a few more questions and answers, I had what I needed for my project. I thanked him for all of his help and that I appreciated him taking time out of his chaotic schedule to speak with me. But I didn’t just walk away with facts and statistics. I also walked away with an incredible experience of getting to talk to a world-class writer and reporter, something that many people don’t get to experience. I interviewed a New York Times reporter. This is something I am proud of doing, and will always remember.

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Gregory Smith

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