Advocates against the use of forced child labour in Uzbekistan spoke out again today in an appeal to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the eve of her trip to Central Asia.
Twenty representatives of American trade unions, labor and human rights groups, investors, brands and retailers called on Secretary Clinton to raise with Uzbek President Islam Karimov the need to permit the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to enter Uzbekistan to inspect conditions in the cotton fields.
Reliable reports indicate year that as many as 1.5 million children are removed from school and forced to work in the harvest.
The letter indicates that a number of years of dialogue have gone on with the Uzbek government about these concerns without action:
We do recognize this is a complex problem that will require time to address. However, we note with grave concern that the steps we had supported three years ago as the first and simplest 'good faith' measures that might have been taken by the Government of Uzbekistan have, to date, not been taken.
Uzbek human rights monitors and journalists have reported numerous instances this year of children as young as 8 and 10 picking cotton, with many students aged 12-14, below the allowable standard for some types of labour. They have also uncovered confirmation that Uzbek state officials deliberately mobilize students through coercion and threats and plan for their exploitation in the annual cotton harvest.
Clinton is touring through Asia to bolster ties with regional powers involved in supplying troops in Afghanistan. She made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan today. The Secretary plans to visit the General Motors plant in Tashkent.
The full text of the letter is as follows:
October 19, 2011
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
US Department of State
Dear Secretary Clinton,
We represent a broad, international coalition of human rights organizations, trade unions , brands and retailers, investors, industry associations and other nongovernmental organizations brought together by our common concern over continued use of forced child labor in Uzbekistan . We understand you will be visiting Uzbekistan shortly, and urge you to make a priority of this issue in any discussions with the Uzbek government.
As you are aware, your visit also coincides with the opening of the fall harvest in Uzbekistan, when an estimated 1 1/2 million children are compelled to pick cotton. Recent spot reports and photographs circulated by activists within Uzbekistan have documented that children as young as 8 are currently being removed from school and forced to participate in the cotton harvest. The spot reports indicate that, despite cosmetic measures by the Uzbek government to respond to international concerns, the practice of widespread mobilization of children and youths continues unabated in the current harvest.
We have appreciated the opportunity to communicate these concerns directly with you, and with senior staff at the State Department, over the past three years, and look forward to further engagement with the Department on this important issue, particularly in the run-up to the 2012 International Labor Conference. We do recognize this is a complex problem that will require time to address. However, we note with grave concern that the steps we had supported three years ago as the first and simplest 'good faith' measures that might have been taken by the Government of Uzbekistan have, to date, not been taken.
We continue to believe that the only step that can truly demonstrate that the government in Taskhent is interested in making significant efforts to address this problem is for it to invite the International Labour Organization (ILO) to send a high level observer mission, as recommended by the ILO's Committee on the Application of Standards, to assess child labor in Uzbekistan during the cotton harvest. As you are aware, for the second year since this recommendation was first put forward, the Government of Uzbekistan has refused to allow such a mission, even though this would have been a natural follow-on to Uzbekistan's ratification of the ILO's child labor conventions.
We urge you to indicate that unless the Government of Uzbekistan takes this key step, and thereby demonstrates a willingness to make significant efforts to combat forced child labor, they risk a downgrade to Tier III on the State Department's Trafficking in Persons list, and the consequences that may trigger.
We appreciate the opportunity to share with you our ongoing concern with forced child labor in Uzbekistan's cotton production, and look forward to further engagement with the Department on this important issue.
American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA)
American Federation of Teachers
Boston Common Asset Management
Calvert Asset Management
CREA: Center for Reflection, Action and Education
Child Labor Coalition
Fair Labor Association
Human Rights Watch
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
International Labor Rights Forum
National Consumers League
National Retail Federation
Responsible Sourcing Network
Retail Industry Leaders Association
Open Society Foundations
Social Accountability International (SAI)
U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel (USA-ITA)
United States Council for International Business