The Uzbek Government Must Close the Gap Between Commitments and Actions on Ending Systematic Forced Labor.
Washington, DC – Today the U.S. government upgraded the Uzbek government’s ranking in its 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report
to the Tier 2 Watch List, a category denoting nations that deserve special scrutiny, despite acknowledging that “government-compelled forced labor remained during the 2017 cotton harvest.” The Cotton Campaign believes that the 2017 harvest should have been the primary basis of the determination and that given the massive scale of the forced labor in last year’s harvest, the decision does not sufficiently reflect these most recent facts on the ground. Moreover, the Cotton Campaign is concerned that the decision to upgrade Uzbekistan, may prematurely diminish the government’s incentive to translate its recent commitments into action to end systematic forced labor.
“In 2017, the Uzbek government once again forced education and medical workers, other public sector employees, private sector workers, people receiving benefits, and some college and university students to pick cotton involuntarily,” said Umida Niyazova, director of the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (UGF). “The United States should make clear to Uzbekistan that addressing root causes of forced labor in the cotton sector is vital and high-level commitments alone will not solve the problem and should not be rewarded against a backdrop of continuing and well-documented evidence of systematic human rights abuse.”
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) report, at least 336,000 people were victims of state-sponsored forced labor during Uzbekistan’s 2017 cotton harvest. The report, commissioned by the World Bank to monitor for risks of child labor and forced labor in World Bank-financed project areas, found that while child labor has largely been eradicated, risks of forced labor remain systemic in all cotton-producing regions, including those that host World Bank projects.
“We acknowledge the high-level commitments on the part of the government of Uzbekistan to end forced labor in the cotton sector, but believe that this upgrade is premature due to its persistence on a large scale – at least a third of a million people – in the last harvest,” said Bennett Freeman, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and Co-founder of the Cotton Campaign, a multi-stakeholder coalition of apparel brands, trade unions, and NGOs committed to ending child labor and forced labor in the Uzbek cotton sector. “We look to the Uzbek government to implement these commitments – above all to use only voluntary labor in the upcoming 2018 harvest and to permit full access of civil society monitors – to achieve truly historic reform.”
The TIP report cites that “achievements” of the Uzbek government “included taking substantive actions towards ending the use of forced adult labor during the annual cotton harvest by increasing remuneration to pickers and cotton procurement prices; demobilizing students and, to a lesser extent, partially demobilizing some in other government directed labor sectors; allowing full unimpeded access to international third-party monitors; and engaging in dialogue with activists and treating them in a more humane manner. At the highest levels, the government publically acknowledged as a problem forced labor in the cotton harvest.” The report notes, however, that “The government did not consistently implement its ban on the mobilization of public sector employees. It demonstrated decreased efforts in victim identification, as well as the investigation and prosecution of suspected traffickers.”
The Cotton Campaign believes that it is premature to characterize these steps as “achievements” but instead recognizes them as significant high-level commitments which must be swiftly and fully implemented to benefit the people of Uzbekistan as well as to comply with the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) minimum standards.
The Cotton Campaign calls on the U.S. to redouble its efforts to persuade the authorities in Tashkent to eliminate forced labor from the cotton sector, especially now that Uzbekistan is on the Tier 2 Watch List. In particular, the U.S. should insist that the Uzbek authorities begin by carrying out the upcoming 2018 cotton harvest without reliance on forced labor; develop structural changes to reform the cotton sector and overall agricultural production to rely on free and fairly compensated labor; and establish a culture of accountability and prevention for past and potential further abuses.
These steps are consistent with both the road map of reforms
that were the basis of the Cotton Campaign’s constructive consultations with the Uzbek government in Tashkent last month and with the specific recommendations set forth in this TIP Report
Source: Cotton Campaign