Cotton Campaign sends delegation to Uzbekistan After a decade of advocacy against forced labor, Cotton Campaign to present roadmap of reforms to Uzbek government
Media Advisory Cotton Campaign sends delegation to Uzbekistan After a decade of advocacy against forced labor, Cotton Campaign to present roadmap of reforms to Uzbek government
Washington, D.C. – On May 10 through 16, representatives of the Cotton Campaign, a coalition of organizations that share the goal of eradicating child labor and forced labor in cotton production, will for the first time visit Uzbekistan at the government’s invitation.
This significant trip is one of several recent encouraging signs that the Uzbek government is willing to talk about the subject of forced labor. Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev acknowledged forced labor in cotton production in a speech at the United Nations in September 2017, the first time a high-ranking Uzbek government official had done so in a public forum. President Mirziyoyev again repudiated forced labor, this time of teachers being mobilized for street cleaning and other “public works,” in a video conference on April 13, 2018. Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov then organized a conference on April 17 of ministers of education and public health, who were admonished for forcing doctors, nurses and teachers to pick cotton, clean streets and do other labor not related to their work.
Whether these positive changes will lead to ending state-sponsored forced labor in Uzbekistan remains to be seen. Preliminary reporting from Cotton Campaign member the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, which operates a network of civil society monitors to document forced labor in cotton production, indicated the forced labor system continued without significant changes to its structure or function in 2017, and documented isolated incidents of children being mobilized to harvest cotton as well.
The Cotton Campaign delegation is not comprised of forced labor monitors, and will not assess or in any way make a determination about Uzbekistan’s progress toward eliminating forced and child labor in cotton production. Rather, the purpose of the trip is to engage directly with government officials and other stakeholders, including civil society advocates and human rights monitors, in Uzbekistan to discuss the feasibility of taking actions the Cotton Campaign deems necessary to end these human rights abuses. Members of the Cotton Campaign have developed recommendations for a detailed roadmap that outlines those actions, and will encourage immediate steps to end the forced labor system in the 2018 weeding and harvest season, as well as long-term restructuring to reduce the risk of reverting to a reliance on forced labor in future cotton production in Uzbekistan.
Those actions include:
Legal and policy reforms to, among other things, end mobilization of education and healthcare workers to harvest cotton and end the practice of forcing those who refuse to pay for replacement workers.
Civil society engagement to allow unfettered access to fields for local, independent civil society monitors to document forced labor and drop all remaining charges against human rights defenders.
A time-bound plan to dismantle the structural underpinnings of the forced labor system, including an end to cotton production and labor quotas and increased transparency of financial flows within the cotton sector.
Accountability mechanisms that allow for secure complaints and legal actions against officials who mobilize citizens.
In addition, the Cotton Campaign will:
Advocate for all outstanding civil and criminal charges against human rights defenders to be dropped, including the release from prison of Fakhriddin Tillayev, who was imprisoned after trying to form an independent trade union.
Meet with local civil society allies to provide solidarity and support.
Engage in discussions with locally-based representatives of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and World Bank around monitoring methodology for documenting forced and child labor in World Bank project areas.
Uzbekistan is one of the world’s largest cotton exporters, and the government of Uzbekistan uses one of the largest state-orchestrated systems of forced labor to produce it. Each year the government of Uzbekistan forcibly mobilizes citizens to grow and harvest cotton. Farmers must deliver production quotas developed by government agencies at the federal and local levels, under threats of penalty, including the loss of the lease to farm the land, criminal charges and fines. The government forces citizens to pick cotton and deliver harvest quotas under threat of penalty, including expulsion from school, job loss, and loss of social security benefits.
CONTACT: Cotton Campaign Coordinator - C/O International Labor Rights Forum, 1634 I Street NW, suite 1000, Washington, DC 20006. +1(202) 347-4100, cottoncampaigncoordinator [at] gmail.com