This article originally appeared on EL Tuz, July 5, 2016, here.
Aggressive cotton worms threaten this year's harvest and the latest downgrading in the US annual Trafficking Report brings bad publicity for the country
Teachers and doctors in the eastern Uzbek Fergana Region have been forcibly taken to the cotton fields to collect worms. They are picking worms from the cotton plants by hand. The news coincided with the release of an annual report by the US Department of State on 30 June presenting the latest findings in the fight against human trafficking in which Uzbekistan has been downgraded to the lowest ranking this year.
It was reported that the deputy governor of the region Tolqinoy Tojiyeva, who is also responsible for women’s affairs, visited all districts and called on teachers and doctors to go to the cotton fields and help the farmers.
“Some sort of aggressive worm is attacking the cotton plants,” said one of them. According to the farmer, each school had to allocate 10 staff members every day for this campaign. He added that Tolqinoy Tojiyeva had held a meeting at the school where she stressed that cotton was the national wealth and symbol of Uzbekistan that brought fortune to the state and had further called on teachers and doctors to help to protect it. In reality, she had not asked but demanded this.
Failed biological method in the fight against worms
Technically, a center under the patronage of the Uzbek Ministry of Agriculture and Water would deal with issues such as pest control. However, a correspondent of Eltuz.com found out from experts at the center that the biological method was not effective. The experts said that there were four to ten biological laboratories in each district.
An expert of one of the biological laboratories said that their method of fighting the cotton worms was effective only during the initial phase of the worms’ development.
Uzbekistan rated poorly on the basis of its ongoing forced labour practice
The campaign of forcibly mobilizing teachers and doctors to remove the cotton worms coincided with the release of a report on the latest developments in the fight against human trafficking where Uzbekistan has been added on tier 3, the blacklist of those states not putting much effort to control human trafficking and forced labour.
On 30 June, the US Department of State released its annual Trafficking in Persons Report. It reveals that Uzbekistan’s efforts in combatting human trafficking were not enough to avoid the downgrading to Tier 3 , the lowest ranking among the 188 investigated countries.
The report notes the increase in the number of attacks on activists who conducted monitoring during the cotton-picking campaign in Uzbekistan in 2015. It further annotates that, although Uzbekistan has laws prohibiting the use of forced labour, the government is violating these laws itself. The report finds that, consequently, the system of forced labour remains unchanged in Uzbekistan, and that under the threats of punishment, dismissal from jobs, depriving of social benefits and dismissal of students from universities, at least one million people were involved in forced labour.