Government of Uzbekistan Fails to Allow ILO Monitoring of Cotton Harvest: Urgent Call to Action for Governments & Companies
Once again, the government of Uzbekistan has refused to invite an International Labour Organisation mission to conduct monitoring during the cotton harvest. In a clear demonstration of the top-down, government-dictated process, the Uzbek government formally initiated the country’s cotton harvest today by issuing its annual order to commence the national cotton harvest. Across the country, schools will close while teachers and students alike are forced into the fields, and farmers will spend the next months working to ensure that they meet the government established production quotas.
Since 2009 the ILO has called on the Uzbek government to respond to continued reports from workers, employers, and civil society of the systematic and persistent use of forced labour of children and adults in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields. Since 2010 the ILO tripartite supervisory body has called on the GOU to invite a high-level tripartite mission to conduct unfettered monitoring during the cotton harvest. In 2012, review of all country cases by the ILO supervisory body was suspended for reasons unrelated to the case against Uzbekistan, and with the ILO tripartite recommendations outstanding, the ILO offered the Uzbek government an opportunity to take an initial step. The government had the option to invite an ILO technical assistance team that would monitor during the 2012 cotton harvest, if the invitation arrived in time for adequate preparations. The harvest has begun, and the government has not invited an ILO technical assistance monitoring team, so effective monitoring by the ILO is no longer possible this year.
The failure of the government of Uzbekistan to take up the ILO’s offer once again demonstrates the government’s lack of willingness to address concerns of forced labour and forced child labour. It also reinforces the government’s message that independent monitors are not tolerated. In 2011 human rights activists Elena Urlaeva, Gulshan Karaeva, and Nodir Akhatov were detained for their attempts to monitor the cotton harvest. Ms. Karaeva was subsequently attacked. The level of hostility towards Uzbek human rights activists was tragically evinced last month by the murder of human rights defender Akromhodzha Mukhitdinov.
With the ILO unable to assess the situation in Uzbekistan, it is increasingly incumbent on governments and companies as well investors to use their diplomatic and economic leverage to build political will in the government of Uzbekistan to end the forced labour system.
The US and EU governments should withdraw Uzbekistan from the generalized system of preferences until the Uzbek government demonstrates that it meets GSP conditionality to protect fundamental human rights. The US government should downgrade the Uzbekistan government in the Global Trafficking in Persons Report to Tier III, accurately representing the Uzbek government’s refusal to make significant efforts to eliminate forced labour. The government of Germany should cease payments to the Uzbek government for use of the Termez base until Tashkent responds to state-sponsored human rights concerns. In negotiations for use of the Northern Distribution Network, the US government should recognize that downplaying human rights positions them against the Uzbek people and on the wrong side of history.
Companies have a responsibility to conduct due diligence that ensures respect for human rights in their supply chains, even if they have not contributed directly to the rights violation. Since slavery-like practices are used in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields, Companies must eliminate Uzbek cotton from their supply chains until the use of forced labour and forced child labour in the Uzbek cotton sector is ended. Companies that have signed the Cotton Pledge should disclose the steps taken to avoid Uzbek cotton in their supply chains, and companies that have yet to do so should sign the Pledge to strengthen the global denunciation of forced labour and follow up with implementation. Companies with operations in Uzbekistan have the additional responsibility to protect their employees from the state-sponsored forced labour system and avoid complicity in this crime. Companies operating in Uzbekistan should facilitate independent risk assessments and civil-society led monitoring to ensure that their employees and their employees’ children are not forced to work the cotton harvest. Companies should also publicly disclose the preventive steps taken to bolster confidence of investors, who expect companies to address tangible human rights risks with adequate preventive measures.
The Cotton Campaign will continue to call on the government of Uzbekistan to invite a tripartite high level mission of the ILO to conduct unfettered monitoring. Meanwhile, we call on governments and companies as well as investors to use their leverage to urge the government of Uzbekistan to end the forced labour of children and adults in its cotton sector. Inaction only ensures continued state-sponsored forced labour of Uzbek children and adults.
The Cotton Campaign:
Advocates for Public Interest Law (APIL)
American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
Anti-Slavery International (ASI)
European Center on Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR)
International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF)
Open Society Foundations
Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN)
Uniting Church in Australia: Justice & International Mission Synod of Victoria and Tasmania
Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights
CONTACT: Cotton Campaign Coordinator - C/O International Labor Rights Forum, 1634 Eye Street NW, suite 1001, Washington, DC 20006. +1(202) 347-4100, cottoncampaigncoordinator [at] gmail.com