On October 28th, 2013, the Korean National Assembly Members of the Strategy and Finance Committee called on APIL’s Attorney-at-Law, Jongchul Kim, to serve as an witness at the Parliamentary Inspection of Korea Minting, Security Printing & ID Card Operating Corporation (KOMSCO).
The backdrop of the Inspection is as follows: KOMSCO has set up a corporation called GKD in Uzbekistan to produce cotton pulp, which is brought into Korea to make Korean banknotes; this operation is problematic because Uzbekistan is infamous for using forced child labor in cotton fields. Mr. Kim was asked to be a witness at the Inspection since he, along with two other APIL attorneys, Ms. Sejin Kim and Mr. Lee Il and Mr. Minchul Kim of Center for Good Corporations, has completed a field investigation of forced child labor in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan from September 24th to October 4th, 2013.
The testimony at the Inspection is summarized below. Click here to see the actual footage of the testimony (click “전체보기  on the right column and watch from 17:00).
Member of the Justice Party, Mr. Wonseok Park, asked Mr. Kim about 1) his activities as a public interest lawyer thus far, 2) the extent of child labor in Uzbekistan 3) the conditions of child labor, and 4) the challenges in field investigation and surveillance from the Uzbek government.
Mr. Kim explained that he first learned of the forced child labor issue in Uzbekistan in 2011, when he participated in the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child’s review of the Korean government on alleged detention of migrant children. At the review, one of the Committee members had raised a challenge that a Korean corporation may be implicated in forced child labor in Uzbekistan. Further, Mr. Kim added that the Korean government had recommended, in its annual Universal Periodic Review of 2013, that the Uzbekistan government “eradicate forced child labor”.
Further, according to the results of the field investigation, Mr. Kim testified that 1) forced child labor, especially for high school students 18 years of age and below, is common nationwide, 2) forced adult labor has worsened, as teachers, doctors, nurses, state-operated media, state employees working at provincial administrative offices and even laborers in private corporations are forced into labor for the sake of gathering cotton, 3) even if school children are not laboring, since the teachers are absent due to forced labor, their right to learn is severely inhibited, and 4) the adults put into forced labor are hiring children, which is creating a new form of paid child labor.
Discussing the conditions of child labor, Mr. Kim addressed conditions of living quarters and meals; work quotas, compensation and deductions; and sanctions. If the cotton fields are close to the school, they would use the school classrooms as living quarters for forced laborers, and if not, they would convert cattle shed into dormitories, exposing students to rats and bugs. As for food, both quantity and quality were extremely inadequate, and even access to clean water was lacking. For instance, a group of students at a light industry high school in Jizzax fell ill after drinking water from a puddle in the cotton fields around September 22nd of this year.
Addressing work quotas, while there are differences between regions, 60 kg of cotton per day is required in general. The average compensation for the labor is 150 UZS (Uzbekistan sum) per kg, which converts to around $0.08 USD; that translates to slightly over $4.80 USD per day if the quota is filled. However, 50% of the compensation is automatically deducted to account for the laborer’s meals, electricity, medical care, transportation, and even rent. The students who do not fill the quotas are entitled to even less, and often go into debt, or have their fees deducted from scholarships.
In terms of sanctions, if the student refuses labor or does not fulfill the quota, he/she gets physical punishment, receives low grades in school, and even faces expulsion. In the case of adults, the authorities reportedly issued threats of cutting off electricity.
Addressing the difficulties of filed investigation and the interference from the Uzbek government, 1) children are often deliberately placed in the center of the cotton fields so that outsiders may not easily spot them, 2) each cotton field has police officers and securities, 3) the government puts surveillance on domestic and foreign activists who monitor forced child labor (even immediately before the field investigation, a reporter who was monitoring the cotton fields was imprisoned), and 4) the team was constantly under the watch of the Uzbek government during their investigation; an activist in Jizzax was arrested right after meeting with the investigation team, and the team was also detained by the police for half an hour at the cotton fields.
Mr. Kim made his final comments by recounting his visit to a high school in Tashkent, where, despite being a weekday, the school was completely empty except for one teacher because everyone was out working at the cotton fields.
Translated by Hyun-Soo Lim. Re-posted from the original at: http://www.apil.or.kr/1414