Letter to the Editor of Fibre 2 Fashion, regarding "Uzbekistan, Korea sign textile cooperation agreements," 19 June 2014, by
Brian Campbell, Director of Policy and Legal Programs, International Labor Rights Forum:
Last year, the Government of Uzbekistan forced children and adults to grow and harvest cotton on a mass scale. As a result, ALL cotton in Uzbekistan is produced with forced labor. Before investing deeper into the cotton sector in Uzbekistan, the Korean Government, Daewoo International, and all other companies should seriously consider the legal ramifications of their decision.
U.S. law prohibits any person from "knowingly benefiting" from forced labor, and anyone found to be profiting from forced labor, including Daewoo's corporate executives, faces up to 20 years in prison in the United States if they are found and charged in U.S. jurisdiction. Considering the global scale of Daewoo International's global business operations, including significant investments in the United States, Daewoo may want to reconsider exposing themselves to even more liability.
The International Labor Rights Forum and other members of the Cotton Campaign filed a complaint to the U.S. Government against Daewoo International and another cotton processor in Uzbekistan, Indorama Corporation, for violating criminal laws prohibiting a company from trading a good made "in whole or in part" with forced labor. We were pleased to learn from Department of Homeland Security that they have opened an investigation into Daewoo, Indorama and other companies' violations of U.S. forced labor laws as a result of their role processing Uzbekistan's illicit cotton. As a result, Indorama has already had a shipment of yarn intended for sale in the U.S. detained and eventually re-exported. Other companies' should take heed from Indorama's experience, and support the call from Uzbek human rights activists, to insist that the Government of Uzbekistan end its forced labor system for cotton production, and, in the meantime, find alternative sources for their cotton.
Ten reasons the US Government should maintain Uzbekistan in Tier 3 in the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report
The US Government releases the TIP Report June 20. “The Government of Uzbekistan remains one of only a handful of governments around the world that subjects its citizens to forced labor through implementation of state policy,” reported the US Government in the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report. This tragic reality has not changed. In the last year, the Uzbek Government has continued its forced-labor system, in violation of the rights of Uzbek children and adults, and undermining development of the Uzbek nation. Here are ten reasons that maintaining Uzbekistan in Tier 3 in the 2014 TIP Report would be the right decision by the US Government:
1. Anti-trafficking standards: Uzbekistan does not meet the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, nor is the Uzbek Government yet taking real steps to meet those standards. The Uzbek Government's system of forced labor violates national law, International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions No. 105 (Abolition of Forced Labor), and in the case of children, No. 182 (Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor).
2. Government coercion: In 2013, the Uzbek Government again forced farmers to produce cotton according to state-imposed production quotas under threat of losing their lease to farm the land and criminal charges. Authorities forced children, mostly aged 16 to 17, and adults — teachers, doctors, nurses, civil servant and private sector employees — to work in the cotton fields under threat of punishment, including verbal abuse and physical abuse, expulsion from school, dismissal from work, and loss of salary, pension and welfare benefits. Authorities harassed, intimidated and detained Uzbek human rights defenders who attempted to monitor the harvest. Public officials also demanded and accepted payments in return for exemptions from forced labor, fostering corruption throughout the country.
3. Opportunity to encourage reform: The Uzbek Government demonstrated it responds to international pressure in 2013, when, after a decade of global pressure, it reduced the number of children under age 16 forced to pick cotton and accepted monitoring by the International Labour Organization. The ILO observed the forced labor problem. The Uzbek Government’s actions demonstrated its ability to change practices unilaterally, reminding us that forced labor and child labor in the Uzbek cotton sector are state policy, not the result of poverty or other forms of exploitation.
4. Expanded forced labor: In 2012 and 2013, the Uzbek Government shifted the burden of the harvest from children under age 16 who worked the whole harvest, to older children and adults, often working rotating shifts, thereby increasing the number of people forced to work. Since that shift, we estimate the number of people forced to pick cotton increased from more than 1 million in previous years to as many as 5 million in the 2013 harvest [see methodology here]. That is 16% of Uzbekistan’s population and twice the International Labor Organization’s world-wide estimate of persons subjected to state-sponsored forced labor in 2012.
5. Fatalities: In 2013, at least eleven Uzbek citizens died as a result of the forced-labor cotton production system, ranging in ages from 6-year old Amirbek Rakhmatov to 63-year old Tursunali Sadikov.
6. No change in 2014: This year the Uzbek Government has already imposed the annual production quotas on farmers and forced citizens to weed and prepare the cotton fields.
7. Social costs: The Uzbek Government has sent doctors, nurses, and other staff of hospitals and clinics from around the country to harvest cotton, making it difficult for people to receive medical care. Students not sent to the cotton harvest were crammed into larger-than-normal classes, or miss subjects, because their teachers were sent to pick cotton. The cost of this missing workforce is estimated to be more than $200 million annually, not accounting for the costs of lost school hours for high-school-aged and university students or farmers’ debts.
8. Missing national income: The Uzbek Government has absolute control over the purchasing and sales of cotton, wheat and silk, as well as the inputs to grow these products. From cotton alone, the government earns at least $1billion USD annually. The official national budget does not account for income from sales of these products; instead, it goes to the opaque, extra-budgetary “Selkozfond” in the Finance Ministry, to which only the highest level government officials have access and knowledge of its use.Therefore, these funds cannot be used for improvements of the agriculture sector, infrastructure or social purposes such as education. Farmers are not able to earn enough to hire free laborers for the harvest or invest in modernization.
9. No freedom of association: Even after beginning a technical assistance program with the ILO, the Uzbek Government does not permit independent organizing and represses civil society. The Federation of Trade Unions of Uzbekistan (FTUU) is led by a member of the Uzbek cabinet, and workers have reported that FTUU representatives help mobilize them to the cotton harvest. The Farmers Association functions on behalf of local administrations to ensure fulfillment of state-imposed production targets. Since 2005, the Uzbek government has partially recognized one independent civil-society organization, “Ezgulik”, yet continues to harass and imprison its staff.
10. Forced-labor in Uzbekistan taints the fabric of our lives. Uzbekistan is the fifth-largest exporter of cotton. Most Uzbek cotton is sold to traders in China and Bangladesh, and globalized production results in apparel with Uzbek cotton on retail shelves worldwide. Therefore, more than 130 companies have publicly committed to boycott Uzbek cotton until the abuses end. Leading apparel companies also pushed Daewoo International out of their supply chains in protest of the South Korean company’s support for the forced-labor system as the largest cotton manufacturer in Uzbekistan. Indorama Corporation, which also manufacturers Uzbek cotton in Uzbekistan, is currently under investigation for alleged violations of U.S. law prohibiting a company from importing into the United States any product made with forced labor.
By Jeff Goldstein, Senior Policy Analyst for Eurasia, Open Society Institute
In Uzbekistan, when summer turns to fall, the government forces more than a million of its citizens to drop what they are doing and pick cotton, according to independent monitors.
The government maximizes profits by forcing farmers to meet production quotas and sell cotton--Uzbekistan's "white gold"--at artificially-low prices. Government-supplied forced labor is the grease that keeps the system going because the government buys the cotton at such a low price that farmers cannot possibly make a profit if they have to pay market rates for labor. Meanwhile, the government's cotton monopoly yields hundreds of millions of dollars in profits that are directed into an off-budget slush fund that senior officials use to buy whatever they wish. By approving three new loans to Uzbekistan on June 12 the World Bank has risked having the grease of forced labor dirty its own reputation.
The Uzbek authorities have reacted to international pressure over the past two years by ending the mass mobilization of children younger than 15 and allowing the International Labor Organization to monitor last year's cotton harvest. But Tashkent has not taken any steps to begin to dismantle the forced labor system. While younger children are no longer forced to pick cotton, larger numbers of older children and adults are being mobilized in their place. And since employers usually rotate their employees in and out of the fields for a few weeks at a time, more people may actually be serving as forced labor today than two years ago.
The World Bank recognizes the problem. Its own Inspection Panel published a reportlast year indicating that there was a "plausible link" between an existing Bank agricultural sector project and forced labor. Nevertheless, the Bank's Board of Directors decided on June 12 to move ahead with new projects on irrigation and horticulture before demanding that the Uzbek authorities take concrete steps to dismantle the forced labor system. Simultaneously, the Board approved a loan for work to improve pre-primary and secondary education even though high school students, teachers, and school staff are still shipped en masse to the fields each fall to pick cotton while younger students who are no longer mobilized are often double shifted or forced into combined classes because so many of their teachers are working in the fields.
The Bank admits that forced labor is a serious threat to these projects and, to its credit, is taking a number of unprecedented steps to try to avoid contamination with the forced labor system. These include a covenant in the irrigation loan agreement under which the Uzbek authorities pledge that throughout the project area they will abide by their own labor laws (!) banning the use of forced labor. But given that more than one-third of the land in the project area is currently planted in cotton that will be a neat trick. There is simply no way a farmer can afford to raise cotton and pay market rates for labor.
The Bank will also employ an independent third-party monitor. If that monitor or Uzbek activists who monitor the harvest (at considerable risk of harassment or arrest) turn up evidence of forced labor, it will be incumbent on the Bank to revoke the loan agreements and demand the Uzbek authorities return any funds already disbursed. This would be a clear measure of the extent to which the World Bank's new social consciousness is for real.
Jeff Goldstein is the senior policy analyst for Eurasia at the Open Society Foundations.
This article first appeared on The Huffington Post, June 13, 2014, here.