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:
1. Publicly renounce the forced labour of children and adults in the cotton industry and take immediate and time-bound actions to end the practice.
2. Investigate and hold accountable under legal due process all officials found to have violated national law by mobilizing forced labour during the 2013 harvest.
3. Invite an ILO high-level tripartite monitoring mission to visit the country during the 2014 cotton harvest, with complete freedom of movement and timely access to all situations and relevant parties, in order to monitor compliance with ILO Conventions No.105 and No. 182, under terms that include:
a. Tripartite oversight and selection of monitors by the ILO, IOE and ITUC;
b. Participation of independent Uzbek civil society;
c. Unfettered access for monitoring all situations related to the cotton industry;
d. Examination of multinational enterprises operating in the cotton and textile industries or otherwise involved in the cotton harvest; and
e. Public reporting of the findings and recommendations.
4. Accept technical assistance from the ILO and other United Nations agencies to eradicate forced labour, including ending the state-order system of cotton production and enabling farmers to hire labour in conditions respecting fundamental rights at work.
5. Provide comprehensive information, as requested by the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) and Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS), on the concrete impact of various measures taken to prohibit and monitor the prohibition of forced labour.
6. Allow independent journalists and human rights defenders unrestricted access to document the conditions during the 2014 cotton harvest and as needed according to their discretion.