Washington, DC, July 27, 2015: Today the U.S. government upgraded the Uzbek government’s ranking in its 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report despite noting that “government-compelled forced labor of adults remains endemic.” The unwarranted decision decreases pressure on the authorities in Tashkent to end forced labor, said the Cotton Campaign in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.
“The failure to classify Uzbekistan properly is wholly inconsistent with the well-documented evidence of its systematic human rights abuse,” said Nadejda Ataeva, president at the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. “The U.S. effectively sent a message to Uzbek authorities that forced labor of millions of its citizens is cost-free.”
The Uzbek government continues to operate one of the largest state-orchestrated systems of forced labor in the world. Furthermore, authorities suppress any attempts by citizens to report on these abuses and continue to publicly deny the use of forced labor. In 2014, the government forced more than a million citizens to harvest cotton and farmers to grow cotton, all under threat of penalty. In only the first half of this year, the Uzbek government forced thousands of citizens to prepare cotton fields for planting, brutalized citizens attempting to document forced labor and deported an international labor expert simply for informing a legally registered human rights group about international labor conventions.
The TIP report cites a government decree reiterating its pre-existing law prohibiting child labor, fined school directors and farmers for child labor, and signed an agreement with the International Labour Organization. The report notes, however, that officials resorted to child labor “under pressure to fulfill government-decreed cotton quotas,” and forced labor is unlike human trafficking in other countries in that it is “government-compelled.” While a system of state-organized forced labor remains in place, the Uzbek government’s commitments and selective actions on child labor cannot be said to represent substantial efforts to comply with the TVPA minimum standards.
In its letter, the Cotton Campaign called on the U.S. to redouble its efforts to persuade the authorities in Tashkent to eliminate forced labor from the cotton sector. In particular, the United States should insist that the Uzbek authorities begin by instructing officials at all levels of government to refrain from using coercion to mobilize citizens to work in the cotton fields and prosecuting all officials who do; committing to an action plan to eradicate forced labor with the International Labour Organization; and permitting citizens and journalists, domestic and foreign, to report human rights violations in the cotton sector without fear of retaliation.
“The practice of forced labor in Uzbekistan has persisted for far too long and should be urgently ended,” said Umida Niyazova, director at the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights. “This year’s report missed a crucial opportunity to end this abominable practice sooner.”