Cotton Campaign recommendations for a roadmap of reforms to immediately end the systematic use of forced labor, and establish a culture of accountability and prevention in Uzbekistan by the end of 2020. From Commitment to Implementation: The Government of Uzbekistan (GOU) has a primary responsibility to protect its citizens and end forced labor in its cotton sector, as established in international and domestic law and recognized at the highest level by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev at the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly in New York on September 19, 2017. The GOU should work in cooperation with U.N. bodies, especially the ILO, civil society organizations, local activists, and international stakeholders, who play an essential role in promoting and supporting accountable actions to end systematic forced labor. Further, the GOU should provide sufficient financial and administrative resources – and coordinate the work of national ministries together with other stakeholders – to ensure that each level of action to dismantle the forced labor system is complementary and mutually reinforcing.
Uzbekistan has an historic opportunity to implement its recent commitments to end forced labor in its cotton sector. While Cotton Campaign recognizes the significance of these commitments, much more than public declarations and decrees are required to achieve the necessary change in practice. We believe it is possible to terminate systematic forced labor in the 2018 cotton harvest, and to establish the major elements of a culture of accountability and prevention in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector by the end of 2020. To achieve this goal, the GOU will need a comprehensive roadmap, including time-bound credible, measurable, and accountable steps to implement sustainable and irreversible structural and operational progress on the ground.
Success in building a culture of accountability and prevention to ensure protection from forced labor depends on achieving tangible and sustainable progress in each of these areas. It is also essential that when a roadmap is developed and implemented, the GOU and its partners emphasize the commitments publicly and not prematurely declare systematic forced labor to be ended until that achievement can be verified by independent monitoring.
The Cotton Campaign recommends reform in four key areas: A. Legal and policy reforms:
Introduce ahead of the 2018 harvest a public roadmap for immediate termination of forced and child labor in the cotton sector covering the entire system of production (field preparation and weeding, pre-harvest and harvest). Ensure this plan is sustainable and irreversible, which includes accountability for violations and prevention of forced labor in the future.
Enforce national laws that prohibit the use of forced and child labor in alignment with ratified ILO conventions.
Enforce the ILO Conventions No.87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize and No.98 on Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining, which both ensure effective social dialogue and prohibit any interference of government in trade unions and employers’ organizations.
In advance of each cotton harvest, starting in 2018, instruct the Government of Uzbekistan, Federation of Trade Unions of Uzbekistan, Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Uzbekistan, to make public, high-level policy statements condemning forced labor (specifically including in the cotton sector), and committing that all work must be voluntary and fairly compensated.
Include prohibition of forced labor as a special item in national tripartite agreements.
Instruct government officials at all levels and citizens that act on behalf of the government not to use coercion to mobilize anyone to work.
End the practice of involving public sector institutions and their employees, including regional and district departments of health and education, kindergartens, schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, and clinics as brigade leaders or in recruitment or supervision of people picking or weeding cotton.
End the practice of involving law enforcement officials, including police, prosecutors, and tax authorities, in recruiting or supervising people picking or weeding cotton, and in supervising fields or farms.
To avoid the possibility of coercion, ensure that anyone involved in the recruitment or supervision of cotton pickers does not control or have influence over their employment or material well-being, including by benefits payments, outside cotton work.
Ensure that all cotton work, including spring fieldwork, is fairly compensated.
Initiate independent, thorough, and robust investigations into allegations of forced labor and ensure that investigations target those responsible for directing or causing forced labor. Initiate fair judicial processes consistent with international standards, against government officials found to have forced or directed or caused others to force citizens to weed, thin, top or pick cotton. Hold accountable those found guilty with penalties that are proportionate to the severity of the crime and serve as a deterrent for future crimes. Where offences warrant a custodial sentence, the treatment of offenders should conform with the UN’s Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners.
Eliminate the practice of requesting fees for replacement pickers or contributions from businesses and entrepreneurs to support the harvest. Make sure that no recruiter should ask for such payments, and that no one should feel obliged to make them.
Eliminate all penalties or punishments for cotton pickers who do not pick required quotas.
Communicate all high-level policy commitments publicly and in forums accessible to Uzbek citizens (online and off line via traditional media).
B. Civil society engagement:
Involve independent national and international civil society organizations in the development and implementation of the roadmap to establish accountability to ensure the prevention of forced labor in Uzbekistan.
Allow civil society, including independent journalists, human rights defenders, and other individuals and organizations, to document and report concerns about the use of forced labor without fear of reprisals.
Ensure that information from civil society monitors may be easily and unconditionally accepted by existing feedback mechanisms for further verification, action and report back on outcomes.
Take immediate steps to provide effective protection of independent journalists, human rights defenders, and other activists against any actions that may constitute harassment, persecution, or undue interference in the exercise of their professional activities or of their rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and association. Ensure that any such acts are promptly, thoroughly, and independently investigated, prosecuted and sanctioned, and that victims are provided with effective remedies.
Remove all undue restrictions on the right of people in Uzbekistan to freely receive and disseminate information and express critical views, including online, regarding forced labor in the cotton sector.
Cease arbitrary harassment of and interference in the work of civil society activists and journalists, including by the police and security services. Drop all criminal and administrative charges and penalties, or other legal restrictions both pending and resolved, against Fakhriddin Tillayev, Elena Urlaeva, Malohat Eshonkoulova, and Dmitry Tikhonov in retaliation for their work in monitoring forced labor and child labor or as a result of their peaceful human rights work and provide effective remedies for harms suffered.
C. Initiate a time-bound roadmap to reform and remove structural features of forced labor in the cotton sector, including:
Abolish mandatory cotton production quotas and grant farmers rights to autonomous land management, including freely deciding what to grow.
End the imposition of labor and production quotas on public institutions.
De-monopolize the sectors of cotton procurement and agricultural input suppliers.
Conduct a complete survey of the condition of agricultural land to create an updated inventory and use the results to guide reform of the tax system for participants in the chain of cotton production – cultivation, production, processing, and sale – to ensure equitable distribution of the tax burden throughout the production chain.
Ensure financial transparency in the cotton sector, including by ensuring national budgets reviewed by the Oliy Majlis include expenditures and income in the cotton sector, ensuring taxes paid and collected revenues in the sector go to the national budget. Full transparent accounts should be made to the public at the end of each cotton harvest.
D. Road towards accountability and prevention:
Establish an accountability mechanism for cases of forced labor and child labor. Examples include: an Independent Anti-Slavery Commission or Ombudsman; a special commission, similar to special courts; and/or an Audit Office to provide independent oversight of public finances. Such a body should have the authority to receive, independently investigate, and remedy complaints, launch its own investigations, and protect complainants from reprisals.
Establish an effective, confidential, and accessible grievance mechanism and provide effective remedies, including legal and financial, to any person subjected to forced or child labor, and issue a public report of remedies provided.
Refrain from inverting national traditions, for example khashar, and using them as instruments of forced labor or coercion. Refrain from referring to cotton work, including spring fieldwork, as khashar, community service, or public duty, and instruct local officials and people responsible for recruitment, including regional and district hokims, mahalla councils and heads of agencies, not to use this term.
Publish in print and online a formal government roadmap for establishing a system of accountability that fosters an environment that protects citizens from forced labor through the 2020 harvest and beyond, which has measurable milestones, a fully-funded budget for enacting measures, and independent annual appraisals supported by a clear process in place for incorporating feedback from independent monitors, the Cotton Campaign, and other stakeholders. Report back on how feedback is incorporated into future management of the cotton sector.
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