For a quarter century, Uzbekistan’s entire history as an independent nation state, the Uzbek government has used the largest state-orchestrated forced labor system of cotton production in the world. A decade of global pressure encouraged the Uzbek government to significantly reduce its use of forced child labor and to sign a framework agreement with the International Labour Organization (ILO) in which it committed to work with the ILO to apply labor conventions, including eradicating forced labor, known as a Decent Work Country Programme (DWCP). Yet the core of the state-orchestrated forced labor system remains unaltered.
This spring, the government continued to use coercion to mobilize citizens to prepare cotton fields for planting, and in 2014 the government forced farmers to fulfill state-imposed quotas for cotton production and forced more than a million citizens to pick cotton, all under threat of punishment. The government silences human rights defenders who attempt to document the abuses, including through arrest and violence, such as the brutal treatment of Elena Urlaeva on May 31 after she documented forced labor in the cotton fields.
After receiving a complaint from Uzbek victims of forced labor, the World Bank committed to pull its loans if there is forced or child labor in its project areas in Uzbekistan and to establish third-party monitoring, including a feedback mechanism for people to report abuses, despite caution that third-party human rights monitoring is not feasible in Uzbekistan: the Uzbek government has only registered one human rights organization, limits its capacity by imprisoning its staff, and continues to control the trade unions.
At the World Bank's request, the ILO agreed to manage monitoring and a feedback mechanism for the Bank and jointly with the Uzbek government, but the ILO needs the government’s approval to implement these measures and any activity towards the DWCP objective of “eradicating forced labor in agriculture.” At the upcoming meeting, the ILO is expected to present the Uzbek government with a plan of action to apply ILO Conventions No. 29 and 105, which prohibit forced labor.
Letter [available in PDF here]:
July 21, 2015
Mr. Guy Ryder
International Labour Organization
4 route des Morillons
CH-1211 Genève 22
Dear Mr. Ryder:
In advance of the ILO’s August roundtable with the government of Uzbekistan, we write to express our appreciation for the ILO’s continuing efforts to advance the application of international labour standards in Uzbekistan. In light of the Uzbek government’s continued systematic use of forced labour, however, we also urge the ILO to use the upcoming meeting to again press the Uzbek government to fully apply Conventions No. 29 and 105.
This spring, human rights monitors in Uzbekistan have again reported that the Uzbek government forced students and state employees to prepare fields for planting, including in World Bank project areas. In May, the government arrested and brutalized Elena Urlaeva for documenting forced labour in the cotton fields. This follows well-documented reports that during last fall’s harvest the government forced farmers to meet state quotas for cotton production and forced more than a million of its own citizens to pick cotton. With these human rights violations, the government has demonstrated that it has yet to alter its forced labor system of cotton production, detailed in Appendix 1.
At your upcoming meeting with representatives of the Government of Uzbekistan to discuss the results of the ILO’s survey of recruiting practices in the agricultural sector and next steps we urge ILO to:
- Insist that the Government of Uzbekistan agree to a credible ILO monitoring of forced labour beginning this fall;
- Insist that the Uzbek authorities also allow monitoring by independent Uzbek civil society without threat of harassment and assure access for domestic and international media to investigate and report on conditions in the cotton sector;
- Should the Government of Uzbekistan refuse to allow credible monitoring of forced labour and a feedback mechanism in World Bank project areas or the ILO become aware of forced or child labour in World Bank project areas, we expect the ILO will so inform the World Bank since independent, third-party monitoring and ceasing loans if there is forced or child labour in project areas are covenants in the loan agreements between the World Bank and government; and
- Publicly report out on the roundtable meeting, including the ILO’s survey of recruitment practices and its findings, proposed plan of action to apply ILO conventions No. 29 and 105, and agreements on next steps regarding the application of ILO conventions in Uzbekistan.
We look forward to hearing from you about the results of the roundtable and plans for next steps in its aftermath.
The Cotton Campaign, a global coalition of labor, human rights, investor and business organizations coalesced to end forced labor of children and adults in the cotton sector of Uzbekistan
Advocates for Public Interest Law
American Apparel & Footwear Association
American Federation of Teachers
Association for Human Rights in Central Asia
Australian Council of Trade Unions
Bennett Freeman, former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Boston Common Asset Management
Daughters of Charity, Province of St Louise
Dominican Sisters of Hope
Environmental Justice Foundation
The Eurasian Transition Group, e.V.
FIDH | Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'Homme | International Federation for Human Rights
International Labor Rights Forum
Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union
Mercy Investment Services
Portfolio Advisory Board, Adrian Dominican Sisters
Responsible Sourcing Network
Retail Council of Canada
St. Joseph Health
Shareholder Association for Research and Education
Stop the Traffik
Sukhrob Ismoilov, Uzbek human rights advocate
Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia
Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania
U.S. Fashion Industry Association
Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk,U.S. Province
Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights
Walden Asset Management
CC: Mr. Kari Tapiola, Special Adviser to the Director-General, ILO
Ms. Corinne Vargha, Chief of the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work Branch, ILO
Mr. Daniel Funes de Rioja, President, International Organisation of Employers (IOE)
Ms. Linda Kromjong, Secretary-General, IOE
Mr. João Antonio Felicio, President, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
Ms. Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, ITUC
Mr. Saroj Kumar Jha, Regional Director for Central Asia, World Bank
Appendix: “The System of Forced Labor Cotton Production in Uzbekistan”
 See: http://uzbekgermanforum.org/uzbek-government-continues-forced-labor-system-to-weed-cotton-fields/
 See: http://www.cottoncampaign.org/uzbek-police-brutalize-human-rights-monitor-elena-urlaeva.html
 See Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, “The Government’s Riches, the People’s Burden: Human Rights Violations in Uzbekistan’s 2014 Cotton Harvest,” April 2015, http://uzbekgermanforum.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/cotton_harvest_Online.pdf