The IUF, LabourStart, the International Labor Rights Forum and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia are launching a campaign to step up pressure on the Uzbek government to end reprisals against human rights defenders who expose forced and child labour in the cotton harvest (see their latest report here).
The campaign focuses on Uktam Pardaev, member of a cotton harvest monitoring group. Uktam was arrested on November 16, 2015 and held for eight weeks in pre-trial detention. He was in a damp, cold cell with only a dirty mat to sleep on. He was beaten, fed half a portion of soup and half a bread roll once a day. He witnessed officials torturing other detainees to obtain confessions. On January 11, 2016 he was given a three year conditional sentence under which he has to remain at home under constant surveillance by security services. His movements and activities are heavily restricted. Officials also watch, question and threaten Uktam's relatives and friends.
Click here to support the campaign to end this harassment by the Uzbek government.
Tier 3, the only appropriate placement for the governments of Turkmenistan & Uzbekistan in the 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report
Today, the Cotton Campaign submitted letters to the United States government urging Tier 3 placements for the governments of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in the 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP).
Each year in the TIP Report, the U.S. Department of State places each country onto one of three tiers based on the extent of their governments’ efforts to comply with the “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” established in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Tier 3 is reserved for governments that do not comply with minimum standards to combat human trafficking and fail to take adequate steps to address the problem, and it carries the possibility of sanctions. The governments of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan not only are failing to meet the minimum standards for a higher ranking in the TIP Report, they are orchestrating and benefiting from forced labor.
Here is the Cotton Campaign coalition letter concerning the government of Turkmenistan (the letter concerning the government of Uzbekistan follow below):
Here is the Cotton Campaign coalition letter concerning the government of Uzbekistan:
This article was originally posted by the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, here.
The following are excerpts of interviews conducted by the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (UGF) with employees of a nursery school in the city of Nukus, Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan, on November 7, 2015. Nodira is 35 years old, and Gulamdon is in retirement age. Their names were changed for security reasons.
UGF: Have you and your colleagues been sent to work in the fields during the 2015 cotton harvest?
There are 55 employees working in our nursery school. Nine of them are on maternal leave. We went to harvest cotton both for a daily shift and with overnight stays.
On September 9, approximately 30% of the nursery school employees went to the Tahtapul region of Karakalpakstan. The last group returned on October 29. The first group went there for 20 days. Others were going on daily shifts.
Those who stayed there [in the fields] overnight returned home to have a one-day rest. Thereafter, they started going on daily shifts.
UGF: What about the quota for cotton picking, payment and any costs you incurred?
The set quota is 60 kg.
They were paying us for the collected cotton every five days. They were paying 230 UZS (0,05 USD) per one kilogram of cotton.
On the first days, the farmer was providing us with food. However, when the pickers started to get money for the collected cotton, we had to bring our own food. When there was not enough money for the food, we were buying the food from our own money.
A group leader managed all organizational issues at the field.
While we were harvesting cotton, our salary [for the work at the nursery school] was paid fully.
UGF: How were the working conditions?
We were working without weekends, staying at the fields from 8 in the morning until sunset.
We were living in a space provided by the farmer for the cotton pickers. The accommodation did not correspond elementary sanitary norms. It was also not heated.
They did not boil water* for those who went to harvest cotton for daily shifts, not to mention other conditions.
UGF: Do you consider cotton harvesting to be “voluntary” work?
We do not get any benefits from the cotton harvesting.
“I’ve sent my daughter instead of me this year. When she was leaving, I gave her food for five days. After returning from the overnight stay, she was going for me on daily shifts. She was taking food with her.” – said a nursery teacher in retirement age
“During the season of the cotton harvesting, the work in the nursery school becomes much more difficult for all of us: for the nurses, the nursery teachers and the technicians. We work 2 – 3 times more, but the salary remains the same.
Besides the cotton harvesting, they are bothering us with various clean-up events. Today, we have to participate in one of them because it is the 6th day of the week.
We cannot complain to anyone. They always harp on that we have to say that we do it [the cotton harvesting and clean-up events] voluntary.
Nobody asks us, if we want or do not want to participate. You will participate, no discussions!
Nobody paid replacement workers [to pick instead of them]. We were picking cotton ourselves. Those who could not go to pick cotton were sending someone from the family.
The City Board of Education signed a contract with the Tahtapul region for five years. We have gone to pick cotton there for four years. One more year left, then we will probably be going to pick cotton in another region.
* Karakalpakstan is considered as an ecologic catastrophe zone because of the drying Aral see. People there almost do not have access to clean drinking water.
University in Uzbekistan Threatens to Expel Students Over Cotton Harvest, Claims Cotton Picking is Coursework
This article was originally posted by the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, here.
The dean of the Tashkent Institute of Irrigation and Land Reclamation threatened to invalidate transcripts of students who did not participate in the 2015 cotton harvest, a move that would effectively expel them from school. More than 100 students are at risk, and some report the dean demanded bribes in exchange for not expelling the students. The university claims participation in the cotton harvest is a course requirement, but the students reported it is merely labor exploitation, in interviews with Radio Ozodlik.
Fourth-year students in the Hydro Amelioration and Hydraulic Engineering faculty reported the dean offered them the option of paying a bribe. The students requested anonymity to avoid retaliation. One of the students explained:
“Now, the dean withdrew our student records. We cannot get our grades registered there. He said: ‘You did not go cotton harvesting. You did not pick cotton. We fulfilled the quota without you. We paid this money. Therefore, you should give money; otherwise, your parents should come.’ And thereafter we could not access our student records.”
Another student, whose records were also withdrawn by the dean for not picking cotton, added that by not registering grades in the students’ records, the school is preventing the students from advancing in school. The student said:
“If they will not give us our student records, our grades cannot be recorded. Those who do not have complete transcripts will be not allowed to take examinations. If they don’t let us take the exams, we will either be expelled from the studies or held back. They withdrew the records of more then 100 students.”
Radio Ozodlik contacted the administration of the Tashkent Institute of Irrigation and Land Reclamation and asked about the problems students reported.
A representative of the university administration told Ozodlik that cotton harvesting is a required internship. Students who do not participate are considered to have not fully completed the coursework.
The official denied that the students who did not participate at the cotton harvesting are required to pay money. The official said:
“Cotton is a part of practical exercise. Those who did not attend cotton harvesting are considered to have not completed the internship. It means that the student did not fulfil the study requirements; therefore, s/he has to accomplish it later.”
According to university rules, a student who did not accomplished the study plan can be expelled or held back.
Mobilizing university and college (high-school) students for the cotton harvest is an annual practice, at the start of the school year. Typically, Tashkent Institute of Irrigation and Land Reclamation and the Agricultural University are the first to send students to pick the cotton.
The students are a low-cost labor force. Academic instruction is put aside, and they pick cotton for a couple months. A student oft he Tashkent Institute of Irrigation and Land Reclamation said:
“What is the connection between the cotton harvesting and study? The purpose is to use students as a free labour force“.
An Uzbek lawyer and expert in national law said,
“I could not find any legal basis to this in any Uzbek laws. The students of the Institute of Land Reclamation could have an internship for which they go to the cotton fields, but the work would have to relate to their studies. It is not legal to force them to pick cotton. Calling it an internship does not change that it is forced labor.”
Source: Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty Uzbek Service “Ozodlik,” “Ирригация институти талабалари пахтага чиқмагани учун ўқишдан ҳайдалиши мумкин,” 9.03.2016,http://www.ozodlik.org/content/article/27600365.html