The member states of the International Labour Organisation ILO meet at the International Labour Conference (ILC), held every year in Geneva, Switzerland, in the month of June. The ILC examines reports from the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations on various country situations and issues.
Each member State is represented by a delegation consisting of two government delegates, an employer delegate, a worker delegate, and their respective advisers. (Employer and Worker delegates are nominated in agreement with the most representative national organizations of employers and workers.)
The IL0 had requested the Uzbek government to supply full particulars to the conference in June 2011 on its conventions concerning child labour. For the past five years, none of the reports on unratified Conventions and Recommendations requested under article 19 of the Constitution have been received, and Uzbekistan also failed to answer a direct request for information on convention no. 154 and a direct request on convention no. 29. This led to Uzbekistan being "double footnoted" in the Committee of Experts’ report i.e. it has appeared under two footnotes in the Committee of Experts' lengthy sections on Uzbekistan:
Serious failure to submit.
The Committee notes with serious concern that the Government has not communicated information on the submission to the competent authorities of the instruments adopted by the Conference during 15 sessions held between 1993 and 2010.
The Committee notes that Uzbekistan has been a Member of the Organization since 31 July 1992. It recalls that, under article 19 of the Constitution of the International Labour Organization, every Member undertakes to bring the instruments adopted by the International Labour Conference before the authority or authorities within whose competence the matter lies “for the enactment of legislation or other action”. The Governing Body of the International Labour Office has adopted a Memorandum concerning the obligation to submit Conventions and Recommendations to the competent authorities, asking for particulars about this subject. The Committee hopes that the Government will provide all the information requested by the questionnaire at the end of the Memorandum about the competent authority, the date on which the instruments were submitted and the proposals made by the Government on the measures which might be taken with regard to the instruments that have been submitted.
The Committee urges the Government, in the same way as the Conference Committee, to make every effort to comply with the constitutional obligation of submission and recalls that the Office can provide technical assistance to overcome this serious delay.
The Committee notes communications it received regarding the abolition of forced labour convention (No. 105), and communications received in 2008 and 2009 from the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which alleged that, despite the ratification of the ILO conventions by Uzbekistan, there were reports from non-governmental organizations and the media regarding systematic and persistent use of forced labour, including forced child labour, in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan. The IOE and the ITUC alleged that the Government systematically mobilized both school-aged children and adults to work in the annual cotton harvest for purposes of economic development.
WORKERS’ ORGANIZATIONS FILE COMPLAINTS OF FORCED LABOUR
The Committee then notes new communications received in November 2010 regarding forced labour in Uzbekistan from a number of workers’ organizations regarding allegations of forced labour by both adults and children: the European Apparel and Textile Confederation (EURATEX) and the European Trade Union Federation: Textiles, Clothing and Leather (ETUF: TCL); the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the ETUF: TCL, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) and the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT).
The ITUC alleged, in particular, that "local administration employees, teachers, factory workers and doctors were commonly forced to leave their jobs for weeks at a time and pick cotton with no additional compensation; in some instances refusal to cooperate could lead to dismissal from work; even elderly people and mothers of young babies had been reportedly ordered by local government officials to pick cotton or lose their pensions or child benefits." The ITUC concluded that, "even if forced labour in the cotton fields was not the result of state policy, the Government still violated the Convention by failing to ensure its effective observance, since it systematically required persons to work in the cotton fields against their will, under the threat of a penalty and in extremely perilous conditions for the purposes of economic development."
UN TREATY BODIES' CONCERNS ABOUT FORCED CHILD LABOUR IN UZBEKISTAN
The ILO’s Committee then reiterated the findings of various UN treaty bodies; the Committee on the Rights of the Child raised the health concerns for children working in the field long hours with pesticides and insufficient drinking water and food; the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, in its concluding observations of January 26, 2010, also expressed its concern regarding the educational consequences of girls and boys working during the cotton harvest season, reinforcing the 2—6 conclusions of the UN Committee on Economical, Social and Cultural Rights expressing concerns about taking children from school.
The Committee reports also noted the ITUC’s accounts of confirming widespread mobilization of forced labour in 2009 in at least 12 of Uzbekistan’s 13 regions: Andijan, Bukhara, Jizzakh, Ferghana, Karakalpakstan, Kaskadrya, Khorezm, Navoi, Samarkand, Syrdarya, Surkhandarya and Tashkent. The ITUC communication rejected the idea that this recruitment was the result of family poverty, but said it was state-sponsored mobilization which benefits the government, which establishes and enforces production quotas and compels teachers to mobilize students. Uzbekistan responded with objections that its well-established educational system placed obstacles to mobilization of children and that this was a family custom on farms.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, in its concluding observations of January 26, 2010, also expressed its concern regarding the educational consequences of girls and boys working during the cotton harvest season.
UZBEK GOVERNMENT DENIES ALLEGATIONS; ILO COMMITTEE PERSISTS IN DEMANDS
The Uzbek government denied the allegations and said forced labour was punishable by both penal and administrative sanctions and that almost all the country’s cotton is “produced by private undertakings that that have no economic interest in employing additional labour.”
The Committee responded by asking the Government to state, in its next report, whether public sector workers and university students participate in the cotton harvest and, if so, how their work is organized and how prevention of forced labour is implemented.
The Committee made note of all of Uzbekistan’s legislative efforts and legal sanctions, yet noted the IOE’s assertion that, despite the legislative framework against forced labour, schoolchildren (estimates ranging from half a million to 1.5 million schoolchildren) are forced by the government to work in the national cotton harvest for up to three months each year.
The Committee drew attention in particular to the need to prosecute those found guilty of exploiting forced child labour and the absence of any reports on such prosecutions or effective monitoring mechanisms. “
In this regard, the Committee “requests the Government to take the necessary measures to ensure that thorough investigations and robust prosecutions of offenders are carried out and that sufficiently effective and dissuasive sanctions are imposed in practice.”
Uzbekistan has frequently tried to deflect concerns about its forced child labour practices with references to its proclaimed National Action Plan. But the Committee noted that “for the NPA on Convention No. 138 and Convention No. 182 to be credible and effective, forced child labour needs to be eradicated, and the monitoring of this phenomenon must be completely independent.”
As it does with UN treaty bodies, the Uzbek government snowed the ILO with reports of measures passed and seminars held and training sessions and inter-departmental commissions formed – all to create the semblance of activity on the issue of forced child labour. The Committee notes all of this, but still demands real implementation:
While noting the Government’s information on the numerous measures taken to monitor the involvement of schoolchildren in the cotton harvest, including measures taken within the framework of the NPA on Convention No. 138 and Convention No. 182, the Committee notes an absence of information from the Government on the concrete results of this monitoring, particularly information on the number of children, if any, detected by the labour inspectorate (or any other national monitoring mechanism) engaged to work in the cotton harvest. The Committee accordingly requests the Government to provide information on the concrete impact of the various measures taken to monitor the prohibition of the use of forced child labour in the agricultural sector.
UNICEF VALIDATES THE PROBLEM – AND THE ILO CALLS FOR AN INDEPENDENT MISSION
A powerful argument cutting through the government’s dissembling on this issue is the recent validation of the issue from UNICEF, which stated on its website that forced child labour remained an ongoing problem for women and children. As the ILO Committee aptly noted, the very existence of a UNICEF program in collaboration with the government to mitigate the child labor issue is a tacit admission that the problem exists. Thus the ILO leverages that admission to demand an independent monitoring missions:
Nonetheless, it appears to the Committee that this practice remains prevalent in the country, especially in view of the ongoing project carried out with the assistance of UNICEF to address the situation of child labour in the cotton sector. In light of the Government’s assertion that children are not involved in the cotton harvest, the Committee considers it essential that independent monitors be granted unrestricted access to document the situation during the cotton harvest. In this regard, the Committee observes that the ITUC, ETUC, IUF, EFFAT, ETUF:TCL and EURATEX believe that a mission must be carried out as soon as possible in order to address the practice of child labour in the cotton sector and to initiate steps towards its eradication. The Committee further observes that the Conference Committee on the Application of Standards urged the Government to accept a high-level ILO tripartite observer mission that would have full freedom of movement and timely access to all situations and relevant parties, including in the cotton fields, in order to assess the implementation of Convention No. 182. Noting that the Government has yet to respond positively to this recommendation, the Committee strongly encourages the Government to accept a high-level ILO tripartite observer mission, and expresses the firm hope that such an ILO mission can take place in the very near future.