Yet Tashkent has still not issued an invitation to the International Labor Organization (ILO) to visit Uzbekistan during the cotton harvest season in the fall, and activists are questioning whether the Uzbek government is in earnest with this latest action.
The new intergovernmental working group is made up of government ministries including the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Public Education, and the Ministry of Health, as well as the state-controlled Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Federation of Trade Unions, and the Farmers Association. Government-organized social organizations such as the Women's Committee and Kamolot Public Youth Movement have been included, but there is no representatives from independent non-governmental organizations or civil society.
The group was explicitly prepared to interact with the ILO and provide information on legislation adopted and preventive measures, and was formed on the ILO's three-party principle of representatives from government, employees, and employers -- although the labor organizations are under state control.
The officially-sanctioned group says it will monitor conditions of labor for children under 18 and prevent the worst forms of child labor under the ILO conventions signed by Uzbekistan in 2008 and ratified by the parliament in 2009.
The group seems to have been hastily put into motion in time for the International Labor Conference in June, where Uzbekistan's long-standing practice of the use of child labor in the cotton industry will be examined, and a critical ILO study reviewed.
Based on reports of the systematic use of forced child labor, the ILO has sought an invitation to visit Uzbekistan during the cotton harvest in the fall to monitor the conditions there. The announcement of the working group seems to give the semblance of cooperation with the ILO while distracting from the fact that Tashkent has continued to refuse to issue the invitation.
Umida Niyazova, head of the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, told cottoncampaign.org that the measure seemed to be largely for show:
The creation of a working group to monitor child labor is likely a peculiar response by the government to its own decision to refuse an ILO mission to come to Uzbekistan again this year. Under the conditions in Uzbekistan, where every bureaucrat fears saying any excessive or critical word, the creation of a working group made up of representatives of ministries and agencies that are part of the government itself is simply ridiculous. After all, forced child labor in Uzbekistan exists precisely because the government supports this system. Therefore, it would be naive and absurd to suppose that the government is capable of monitoring itself, knowing that it is the state itself that is responsible for the existence of this problem.
It remains to be seen how much the working group will really function, and whether it will attempt to displace authentic monitoring activity by Uzbekistan's beleaguered human rights groups.