Constructive discussions in Tashkent with a big task ahead – to end systematic forced labor in cotton production.
A first-ever delegation representing the Cotton Campaign presented recommendations on how to end systematic forced labor in the cotton sector to senior Uzbek government officials on its visit to Tashkent from May 10-16, 2018. The delegation also consulted independently with civil society activists, farmers and representatives of international agencies and ambassadors of other interested governments at this hopeful time for reform in Uzbekistan.
The Cotton Campaign, founded in late 2005, is a coalition of organizations that share the goal of eliminating child labor and forced labor in cotton production. The delegation, included representatives from organizations addressing human rights, and labor rights, modern slavery and supply chain accountability as well as corruption.
While the President and Prime Minister have made clear public commitments to end forced and child labor, immense challenges remain. Those challenges include implementing the upcoming 2018 cotton harvest without reliance on forced labor; developing structural changes to reform the cotton sector and overall agricultural production to rely on free and fairly compensated labor; and establishing a culture of accountability and prevention for past and potential further abuses.
The Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights highlighted these challenges in its 96-page report on the 2017 cotton harvest, “We Pick Cotton Out of Fear’: Systematic Forced Labor and the Accountability Gap in Uzbekistan
”. The Uzbek-German Forum found systematic forced labor in the regions monitored, including in the World Bank’s project area in South Karakalpakstan.
During its visit, the Cotton Campaign presented Uzbek government agencies with recommendations to a roadmap of reforms to terminate systematic forced labor
. To achieve this goal, the government of Uzbekistan will need a comprehensive strategy, including time-bound credible, measurable, and accountable steps to implement sustainable and irreversible operational changes in 2018 and further structural reforms to eliminate the systematic forced labor.
The Cotton Campaign will refine its recommendations based on the discussions held during the delegation’s visit to Uzbekistan. Those core recommendations to the Uzbek government remain focused in these important and urgent areas for 2018:
- End mobilization of education and healthcare workers to harvest cotton and end the practice of forcing those who refuse to pay for replacement workers through immediate legal and policy reforms.
- Establish channels to receive and react – transparently and accountably – to information and data from civil society monitors.
- Develop a time-bound roadmap to reform and remove structural features of forced labor in the cotton sector and end the imposition of labor and production quotas on public institutions.
- Publish in print and online an official government roadmap to protect citizens from forced labor through measurable milestones for progress, sufficient resources for implementation, transparent processes for receiving and reporting on feedback from independent monitors, the Cotton Campaign, and other stakeholders in order to ensure accountability for reform.