Dear Dr. Kim and Mr. Ryder:
In advance of the November round table with the government of Uzbekistan, we write to express our appreciation for the efforts of the ILO and World Bank to achieve the application of international labour standards in Uzbekistan. In light of the Uzbek government’s use of forced labor and attacks on citizens documenting violations this year, we also strongly urge the ILO and World Bank to account for all forced labor perpetrated in assessments of this year’s harvest and to support Uzbek human rights monitors.
The Uzbek government has demonstrated that it is fully deploying its forced-labor system of cotton production this year. After assigning annual production quotas to farmers in the first quarter, officials’ enforcement of production quotas led to the fourth suicide by a farmer in the last two years.[i] From April through August, officials forced thousands of citizens to weed cotton fields.[ii] Since September 8, the government has forced citizens to harvest cotton under threat of penalty nationwide. Under orders from district and regional officials, administrators have mobilized teachers, nurses, doctors and other public sector workers by threatening to fire them. Neighborhood associations (mahallas) have carried out orders from local officials and mobilized retirees and mothers by threatening to cut their pensions and child-care payments. Heads of universities and high-schools have mobilized students under threat of expulsion, including children in the Boz district of Andijan, Pakhtakor district of Jizzak, and Khazarasp district of Khorezm.[iii]
The Uzbek government’s enforcement of production quotas assigned to farmers and recruitment of citizens to work in the cotton fields are the very definition of forced labor,[iv] which, as the ILO Committee of Experts has explained, includes forms of coercion such as physical violence, psychological coercion and the loss of rights or privileges.[v] Furthermore, the government uses forced labor to generate income from cotton sales, in violation of its commitment to not use forced labor for economic development.[vi]
By using forced labor this year, the Uzbek government is violating its contractual commitments to the World Bank to not use forced labor in World Bank project areas[vii] and its agreement to cooperate with the ILO to eradicate forced labor in the cotton sector.[viii] The government is also taking extraordinary measures to cover up its use of coercion. Officials have required teachers and students to sign statements that they participate in the harvest “voluntarily” and instructed teachers to tell foreigners that they pick cotton voluntarily. [ix] The presence of Uzbek government representatives with ILO monitors reduces the likelihood that any citizen will report coercion to the ILO. And police have repeatedly arrested, attacked, and intimidated citizens documenting forced labor,[x] in violation of their rights,[xi] and further undermining the ability of the ILO to obtain all information concerning forced labor.
The Uzbek government’s attempts to mask its use of forced labor must not be accepted. Yet the ILO has reported that it found three categories of recruitment practices through its qualitative survey: voluntary, mobilized and coercion. We are deeply concerned that the ILO established the “mobilized” category to achieve the Uzbek government’s agreement to ILO-led monitoring of forced labor in World Bank project areas and that now the Uzbek government will press hard for the ILO to use the category to minimize the scale of the ILO’s findings of government-orchestrated forced labor during this year’s cotton harvest.
Characterizing forced labor as something else would only serve to prolong the forced-labor system of cotton production in Uzbekistan, which has violated the labor rights of over a million Uzbek citizens each year for the history of the country. Silence in the face of the Uzbek government’s harassment of citizens monitoring and reporting human rights concerns contributes to the destruction of the civil society on which application of labor rights and the socio-economic development depend.
Therefore, we strongly urge the ILO and World Bank to include reports of independent civil-society monitors in assessments of the application of labor conventions in Uzbekistan, to ensure that use of all forms of coercion are reported as forced labor, and to publicly denounce each instance of retaliation against independent civil-society monitors.
We welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters with you.
The Cotton Campaign
Advocates for Public Interest Law
American Apparel & Footwear Association
American Federation of Teachers
Center for Reflection, Education and Action
The Eurasian Transition Group, e.V.
International Labor Rights Forum
No Slavery Australia
Open Society Foundations
Responsible Sourcing Network
Social Justice Board, Uniting Church in Western Australia
Stop the Traffik
Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, Uniting Church in Australia
Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia
United States Council for International Business
United States Fashion Industry Association
Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights
CC: Mr. Kari Tapiola, Special Adviser to the Director-General, ILO
Mr. Saroj Kumar Jha, Regional Director for Central Asia, World Bank
[i] Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (UGF), Chronicle of Forced Labour in Uzbekistan: Issue 1, 2 August 2015, http://uzbekgermanforum.org/chronicle-of-forced-labour-in-uzbekistan-issue-1-2015/.
[ii] UGF, “Uzbek government continued systematic forced labor to weed the cotton fields in 2015,” August 2015, http://uzbekgermanforum.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Weeding-Report-2015.pdf.
[iii] For evidential presentation of these cases, see: UGF, Chronicle of Forced Labour in Uzbekistan, http://uzbekgermanforum.org/category/cotton-chronicle/chronicle-of-forced-labour-2015/.
[iv] ILO Convention No. 29 concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour (Forced Labour Convention), adopted June 28, 1930, 39 U.N.T.S. 55, entered into force May 1, 1932, Article 2, stating “forced or compulsory labour shall mean all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.”
[v] ILO, “Giving Globalization a Human Face,” 2012, ILC.101/III/1B, http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@ed_norm/@relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_174846.pdf, at paragraph 270.
[vi] ILO Convention No. 105 concerning Abolition of Forced Labour, adopted June 25, 1957, entered into force, January 17, 1959, at Article 1b, stating “Each Member of the International Labour Organisation which ratifies this Convention undertakes to suppress and not to make use of any form of forced or compulsory labour…(b) as a method of mobilising and using labour for purposes of economic development.”
[vii] World Bank project areas include the regions of Andijan (Ulugnor district), Bukhara (Alat district), Fergana (Yazyavan district), Karakalpakstan (Beruni, Ellikkala, Turtkul districts), Kashkadarya (Mirishkor district), Namangan, Samarkand, Syrdarya (Bayavut district), Tashkent. See the following documents for the Uzbek government commitments to the World Bank:  Inspection Panel, Report and Recommendations on Request for Inspection, Republic of Uzbekistan: Second Rural Enterprise Support Project and Additional Financing for Second Rural Enterprise Support Project (P126962), Report No. 83254-UZ, (December 9, 2013), at ¶ 25 “all of the following documents have been revised to include provisions that require the beneficiary/beneficiaries to comply with national and international laws and regulations on forced labour, alongside those for child labour: (i) the Rural Enterprise Investment Guidelines; (ii) the Subsidiary Loan Agreement among the Ministry of Finance, the Rural Restructuring Agency (RRA) and the Participating Financial Institutions (PFIs); (iii) the Project Implementation Plan; and (iv) the sub-loan agreement between the PFIs and the beneficiaries.  World Bank, “Financing Agreement (South Karakalpakstan Water Resources Management Improvement Project) between Republic of Uzbekistan and International Development Association,” Credit Number 5490-UZ, 29 October 2014, http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/ECA/2014/11/17/090224b082867c9a/1_0/Rendered/PDF/Official0Docum0Z00Closing0Package00.pdf, at ¶ 4.01 “Article IV: Remedies of Association.”  World Bank, “Loan Agreement (Horticulture Development Project) between Republic of Uzbekistan and International Bank for Reconstruction and Development,” Loan Number 8393-UZ, 8 April 2015, http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/ECA/2015/05/05/090224b082e3e8f6/1_0/Rendered/PDF/Official0Docum0UZ00Closing0Package0.pdf, at Schedule 2 Project Execution, Section I., Implementation Arrangements, A. Institutional Arrangements, 2. (iv), Schedule 2 Project Execution, Section I., Implementation Arrangements, C. Subsidiary Loan Agreements, 4., Schedule 2 Project Execution, Section I., Implementation Arrangements, C. Subsidiary Loan Agreements, 5.e, Schedule 2 Project Execution, Section I., Implementation Arrangements, D. Sub-financing, 3(e), Schedule 2 Project Execution, Section I., Implementation Arrangements, E. Safeguards, 2., Schedule 2 Project Execution, Section I., Implementation Arrangements, E. Safeguards, 4-6.
[viii] Republic of Uzbekistan and International Labour Organization, “Decent Work Country Programme of the Republic of Uzbekistan for 2014-2016,” http://www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/program/dwcp/download/uzbekistan.pdf.
[ix] UGF, Chronicle of Forced Labour in Uzbekistan: Issue 3, 8 September 2015, http://uzbekgermanforum.org/chronicle-of-forced-labour-in-uzbekistan-issue-3-2015/
[x] See Cotton Campaign,  Uzbek police brutalize human rights monitor Elena Urlaeva, 2 June 2015, http://www.cottoncampaign.org/uzbek-police-brutalize-human-rights-monitor-elena-urlaeva.html, “Uzbek Police Assault Human Rights Defender Elena Urlaeva Again,” 18 August 2015, http://www.cottoncampaign.org/blog/uzbek-police-assault-human-rights-defender-elena-urlaeva-again,  “Uzbekistan: Police arrest human rights defenders for documenting the cotton harvest,” 21 September 2015, http://www.cottoncampaign.org/uzbekistan-police-arrest-uzbek-human-rights-defenders-for-documenting-the-cotton-harvest.html,  “Uzbek government subjects human rights defenders to body-cavity searches,” 1 October 2015, http://www.cottoncampaign.org/uzbek-government-subjects-human-rights-defenders-to-body-cavity-searches.html.
[xi] United Nations Officer of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx, Article 19, ratified by Uzbekistan 28 September 1995.