Advocates against the use of forced labor in Uzbekistan spoke out again today in an appeal to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Twenty-two representatives of human rights, trade union, apparel industry, retail, investor and other groups called on Secretary Clinton to urge the Uzbek government to take immediate steps to end forced labor, including children, in the cotton sector. The letter also said the Uzbek government should invite the International Labor Organization (ILO) to monitor the 2012 cotton harvest.
The letter precedes the US government’s planned release of its annual Global Trafficking in Persons (GTIP) report and the ILO’s annual International Labor Conference in June. Under the US Trafficking Victims Protection Re-authorization Act (TVPRA), the Uzbek government must present a written plan that constitutes “significant efforts” to eliminate forced labor, to avoid a downgrade in the 2012 global trafficking report, which would trigger automatic sanctions.
The Uzbek government has failed to meet this condition and has instead denied the existence of forced labor and has continued the state order system for cotton production. The state quotas are identified in the 2011 GTIP report as the root cause of the forced labor.
“Denying the International Labor Organization access to Uzbekistan during the cotton harvest for several years running and muzzling local activists who try to document forced child labor show that the Uzbek government is not credibly tackling this issue,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia Researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The US government needs to insist on independent monitoring by the ILO and local rights groups at a minimum to avoid a downgrade in the trafficking report.”
The Uzbek government remains one of the most repressive in the world. Reports about the 2011 harvest by the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights highlighted the coercion of children as young as 10 and adults, allegedly including employees of the U.S. company General Motors, to pick cotton and to fulfill government quotas of cotton production.
During the 2011 cotton harvest, the Uzbek government also arbitrarily detained at least three well-known rights activists who were trying to monitor the use of forced and child labor during the cotton harvest, threatening criminal charges against two.