FORCED LABOR OF ADULTS AND CHILDREN IN THE COTTON FIELDS OF UZBEKISTAN
Cotton and the Uzbek Economy
* Uzbekistan is the worldâs third largest exporter of cotton (after the US and India) accounting for approximately 10% of the worldâs cotton production.
* Currently cotton generates about 20% of Uzbekistanâs GDP and makes up approximately 40% of hard currency export earnings, accounting for over $1 billion.
* Uzbek farmers are bound to cotton production quotas by their government since they do not have full ownership rights to their land.
* The set prices paid for cotton imposed by the Uzbek government do not allow farmers to cover the expense of their inputs. This lack of revenue and profit does not allow farmers to invest in harvesting machinery, which would reduce their need for cheap labor.
* Government control of Uzbekistanâs cotton industry has been the norm since Soviet days. The âcommand economyâ did not end with Uzbekistanâs separation from the USSR and with restructuring of the collective and state farms into âprivateâ farms.
* Although unemployment is high in Uzbekistan, many adults look for work in neighboring countries due to minimal or lack of payments for their work.
Children in the Fields
* 1.5-2 million children are forced to pick cotton every year by the Government of Uzbekistan
* Some schools in the cotton-growing regions close for about two months, from September through November, so children pick cotton seven days of the week.
* Children are removed from schools and forced to work in the fields in all 13 regions of the country.
* Each province and region of Uzbekistan has an established infrastructure complete with police enforcement that monitors farmers and schools, and mandates teachers to mobilize schoolchildren.
* Children from rural areas are called to the fields for compulsory weeding in May and June, which adds to the overall period of their absence from school classes.
* Some children working in the fields are as young as 10 years old, though the largest populations of children begin picking cotton in the 6th grade (11-12 years olds).
* Daily quota for schoolchildren is 60 – 110 pounds (30 â 50 kilos) of raw cotton per day (depending on the grade/school/location/time period).
* Children who fail to pick the quota face fines, physical punishment or expulsion from school, and their parents may have their utilities or social benefits cut off.
Uzbekistan and Labor Rights
* On March 6, 2009 Uzbekistan ratified the International Labour Organizationâs (ILOâs) Minimum Age Convention (C138) and on June 24, 2008 Uzbekistan ratified the ILOâs Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (C182).
* According to Uzbek national law, legal minimum working age in Uzbekistan is 16. However, 15 year olds can be permitted to work with consent of a parent or guardian, and a student can work at 14 if it is an âeasy job,â prepares the student for work, does not infringe upon the educational process, is free from school hours, and there is written consent by a parent.
* Starting In 2009 international employers and trade unions brought forward information related to forced labor in Uzbekistanâs cotton sector and requested an ILO review of the countryâs compliance with its commitment to ILO conventions.
* Despite the recommendation by the ILOâs Committee on the Application of Standards to send a high level mission to the cotton fields during the harvest, the mission has not been granted by the Government of Uzbekistan.
* Since an international coalition of NGOs, investors and industry representatives started working on the issue of forced child labor in 2007, multiple meetings have occurred with various representatives of the Government of Uzbekistan; they have all consistently denied there is a problem with forced child labor in the Uzbek cotton industry.
Uzbekistan and Human Rights
* In Uzbekistan, open criticism of the government in the press faces prosecution, fines and prison terms.
* The use of torture and inhuman treatment is a common practice by the Uzbek police and prison administration.
* The President of Uzbekistan has suppressed civic freedoms and all political opposition since 1992, when Uzbekistan became independent from the Soviet Union.
* After the Uzbek government handled a 2005 peaceful protest by opening fire on its citizens killing several hundred people in the province of Andijon, the government shut down the majority of foreign funded non-governmental organizations in Uzbekistan.
* The Aral Sea, once the 4th largest lake in the world, has been reduced over the past 50 years to roughly 10% of its original size due to water mismanagement and irrigating cotton fields.
* This environmental disaster has affected the entire region and neighboring countries. Due to the lack of crop rotation and compulsory cotton quota the soil has been poisoned with cotton pesticides, most species of fish native to the Aral Sea are now extinct, climate for the region has become more dry, fishermen are out of business, and there are reports of increased tuberculosis, lung disease and cancer in the region.