In cynical disconnect with today’s World Day Against Child Labor, the President of Uzbekistan approved production quotas for the 2012 cotton harvest that ensure another year of widespread forced adult labor and forced child labor.
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. Once again in 2011, the government of Uzbekistan fully implemented its state-controlled forced labour system for cotton production. As in previous years, the Uzbek government required farmers to grow cotton, and local provincial government offices (khokimiyats) forcibly mobilised adults and children to plant, weed and harvest to meet assigned quotas. Government employees, teachers, factory workers and doctors are also forced to participate in the harvest alongside children, with no additional compensation and under threat of punishment.
In 2011, the government achieved its cotton quotas by forcing more teachers, public servants and employees of private businesses forced to take “voluntary vacations” and pick cotton for no additional compensation. In addition to the government employees, the Uzbek government also ordered private firms and private business shops to send their employees to pick cotton. For the first time in many years the government sent university students from Tashkent city to the cotton fields.
The trend of increased forced adult labor should alarm governments and companies around the world. Doing business with Uzbek cotton support forced labor and the worst forms of child labor. Preferential trade relations support the Uzbek government’s continuous and systematic violations of the rights of Uzbek people and its commitments under international labor conventions against forced labor and the worst forms of child labor.
On this World Day Against Child Labor, the message should be loud and clear to the Uzbek government to grant access to the International Labour Organisation to conduct unfettered monitoring of the 2012 cotton harvest. In Uzbekistan’s cotton sector, ending the government system of forced labor is the first step to ending the worst forms of child labor.