Uzbekistan, located in Central Asia, is one of the largest exporters of cotton in the world. For decades, the government of Uzbekistan, under President Islam Karimov, has forced adults and children as young as 10 to pick cotton under appalling conditions each harvest season. Provincial government offices order schoolteachers to close schools and enforce quotas in the cotton fields. The local authorities send government and private business employees to pick cotton, in order to meet cotton production quotas. The Uzbek government combines these orders with threats, detains and tortures Uzbek activists seeking to monitor the situation, and refuses to allow international monitors into the country.
- Every year the government of Uzbekistan forcibly mobilizes over a million children, teachers, public servants and employees of private businesses for the manual harvesting of cotton. The Uzbek government requires farmers to grow cotton, and local provincial government offices (khokimiyats) forcibly mobilize adults and children to harvest cotton and meet assigned quotas. Children and adults are also forced to weed and prepare cotton fields in the springtime.
- Threats of expulsion from school keep children in the fields despite the hazardous nature of the work and receiving little or no financial benefit. Adults are threatened with the loss of employment, pensions and child benefits if they refuse to work. The coercion used to ensure that children and adults participate in the cotton harvest stems directly from regional and local government officials.
- Forced labor and child labor in the cotton sector of Uzbekistan is unique to the world: it is a state-controlled system, under the direction of a president in power since the end of the Soviet Union, Islam Karimov.
- Profits of the Uzbek cotton sector support only the Karimov government. Uzbek farmers are forced to meet state-established cotton quotas, purchase inputs from one state-owned enterprise, and sell the cotton to a state-owned enterprise at artificially low prices. The system traps farmers in poverty, and the state profits from high-priced sales to global buyers. The cotton ends up in brand-name retail and apparel supply chains and therefore on consumers.
- The Karimov administration detains, tortures, and exiles Uzbek citizens who call for recognition of human rights, violating their human rights and denying freedoms of speech and the press.
- The Uzbek-government forced labor system violates the human rights of Uzbek citizens and condemns future generations to a cycle of poverty. The practice violates Uzbek labor laws and fundamental international labor and human rights conventions ratified by the Uzbek government. The state-controlled system of forced labor blatantly violates the international convention against trafficking in persons and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
WE URGE THE GOVERNMENT OF UZBEKISTAN TO END FORCED LABOR OF CHILDREN AND ADULTS:
- Instruct government official and citizens acting on behalf of the government not to coerce anyone to pick cotton and prosecute anyone who does;
- Ensure farmers can recruit labor by setting the price for raw cotton to exceed production costs, including labor; setting minimum wages for work in the cotton sector sufficiently high to attract voluntary labor; and publicly advertising on behalf of farmers to recruit unemployed citizens to work the harvest;
- Permit unfettered access for the ILO to monitor for the use of forced and child labor during the upcoming harvest and to conduct a survey of the application of ILO Convention No. 105 on the Abolition of Forced Labour throughout the Uzbek economy, with the participation of the International Organisation of Employers, International Trade Union Confederation and International Union of Food Workers; and
- Allow independent human rights organizations, activists and journalists to investigate and report on conditions in the cotton production sector without facing retaliation.
- Establish and implement time-bound reforms of the cotton sector, including reporting all state expenditures and revenues from the cotton sector in national accounts that are provided to the Uzbek Supreme Assembly (Oliy Majlis), ending the practice of re-allocating agricultural lands as a penalty against farmers who do not fulfill cotton quotas, replacing quotas with incentives, and de-monopolizing agriculture input markets and sales markets.
The Cotton Campaign is a coalition of human rights organisations, trade unions, socially responsible investors and business organizations coalesced to end forced labour of children and adults in the cotton industry in Uzbekistan.
Since 2007, the Cotton Campaign has advocated with governments, companies and investors to use their leverage in Uzbekistan to end this continuous and systematic human rights violation. Our advocacy has contributed to key steps towards securing fundamental labor rights for Uzbek citizens.