Statement from the Cotton Campaign on the Start of the Cotton Harvest in Uzbekistan
The 2013 cotton harvest is underway in Uzbekistan. The Uzbek Cotton Industry Association “Uzkhlopkoprom” estimates a total harvest of 3.35 million tons, making Uzbekistan the 6th largest cotton producer and 2nd largest cotton exporter in the world. Yet Uzbek citizens continue to suffer human rights abuses under the state-controlled cotton industry.
We are pleased that this year the International Labour Organization (ILO) expects to deploy teams to Uzbekistan to monitor during the harvest. We remain concerned that the ILO monitors will be accompanied by representatives of the Government of Uzbekistan and the official state union and employers’ organizations, whose presence will have a chilling effect on Uzbek citizens’ willingness to speak openly with the ILO monitors. Therefore, we encourage the ILO to make every effort possible to obtain independent information, publicly report all findings and any interference by Uzbek Government, and validate the findings and monitoring process with the International Trade Union Confederation and International Organisation of Employers.
Since 2010 the tripartite ILO Committee on the Application of Standards has recommended a high-level, tripartite ILO monitoring mission. Such a mission would include tripartite oversight, independent civil-society participation, a mandate to address forced labour and child labour and public reporting. While the ILO monitors will not have unfettered access this year, we will support the ILO in their effort.
Cotton production in Uzbekistan is a state orchestrated forced-labour system. The Government of Uzbekistan forces over a million children, teachers, public servants and private sector employees to pick cotton under appalling conditions each year. Those who refuse are expelled from school, fired from their jobs, and denied public benefits or worse. The Government harasses and detains citizens seeking to monitor the situation. During the Spring 2013, Government authorities mobilised children and adults to plough and weed, and authorities beat farmers for planting onions instead of cotton. In August, authorities initiated preparations to coercively mobilize nurses, teachers and other public sector workers to harvest cotton.
The Cotton Campaign: Advocates for Public Interest Law American Apparel and Footwear Association American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations American Federation of Teachers Anti-Slavery International Aquinas Associates Association for Human Rights in Central Asia Calvert Investments Catholic Health East Child Labor Coalition Domini Social Investments European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights Expert Working Group Freedom House Gonggam Human Rights Law Foundation Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan “Ezgulik” Human Rights Watch International Labor Rights Forum Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate – Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Office National Consumers League National Retail Federation Open Society Foundations Responsible Sourcing Network Retail Industry Leaders Association Sisters of St Francis of Philadelphia Solidarity Center Stop the Traffik Australia Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, Uniting Church in Australia United States Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel Uzbek German Forum for Human Rights Walden Asset Management