Civil Society organizations call on the US government to urge the end of state-sponsored forced labor in the cotton sector of Uzbekistan in the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report
(January 31, 2013) - The US Department of State should downgrade Uzbekistan to Tier III in the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report, said 24 human rights, labor and business organizations united with the Cotton Campaign in comments submitted today to the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Combat Human Trafficking Luis CdeBaca. Failure to downgrade Uzbekistan to Tier III would reward the government of Uzbekistan for flagrant disregard of its national laws and international commitments and ensure that the annual state-sponsored forced labor of over one million children and adults in the Uzbek cotton sector continues, said the organizations.
Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, the State Department may no longer list Uzbekistan on its watch list for countries failing to take sustained and significant action to address trafficking in persons. In the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report, State must either upgrade Uzbekistan or downgrade it to the lowest category, Tier III, which brings with it the threat of sanctions.
During the 2012 cotton harvest the Uzbek government once again mobilized hundreds of thousands of children and adults for forced labor in the fields, clearly failing to demonstrate the sustained and significant progress required to justify an upgrade. “Forced labor of adults and children is human trafficking under US law and international standards,” said Brian Finnegan, Global Workers' Rights Coordinator, AFL-CIO. “If the US fails to rank Uzbekistan Tier III this year, the US would effectively send a message to Uzbek authorities that enslaving its citizens for profit in abusive conditions is acceptable.”
Evidence from the fields year after year indicates that the government of Uzbekistan has not made significant efforts to end forced labor in the cotton sector and intends to continue the practice by communicating a myth of effort and improvement to the US government and all of its governmental and private-sector partners worldwide. “The U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report annually identifies the most egregious human rights violations. The value of the report is diminished each year Uzbekistan is not downgraded for its continued use of government-sanctioned forced labor. Downgrading Uzbekistan is a sure way of engaging all stakeholders to work toward a positive solution,” said AAFA President and CEO Kevin M. Burke.
The US State Department publishes the Global Trafficking in Persons Report each year, typically in mid-June, and invites input from interested parties. Civil society’s comments to the State Department today were based on evidence gathered by dedicated and brave Uzbek citizens who documented the 2012 cotton harvest despite the government of Uzbekistan’s steadfast repression of human rights defenders and rejection of independent monitoring. “Some observers say that now, while the US uses Uzbekistan’s territory to supply troops in Afghanistan, is not the time to risk angering Uzbekistan’s autocratic President Islom Karimov. But long after change to the government of Uzbekistan, the Uzbek people will remember if the US did everything in its power to end their servitude, ” said Bennett Freeman, Senior Vice President for Social Research and Policy, Calvert Investments.
CONTACT: Cotton Campaign Coordinator - c/o International Labor Rights Forum, 1634 I Street NW, Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20006. +1 202-347-4100, cottoncampaigncoordinator [at] gmail.com