Child labour and forced labour

ILO monitoring of the cotton harvest in Uzbekistan

Press release | 27 June 2017
Third Party Monitoring of the cotton harvest is undertaken by ILO at the request of the World Bank and with the agreement of the UZB authorities.

ILO monitors decide where to monitor and with whom to talk. Each is partnered by a trade union official, who facilitates the work of the monitor and helps with logistics. The ILO’s overall assessment is produced by, and represents the views of, the ILO alone without interference from either the World Bank or the UZB authorities, employers or trade union organizations. The assessment contains recommendations addressed to the UZB government, trade unions and employers’ organization.

The ILO holds meetings with independent activists in UZB before, during and after the Third Party Monitoring, and their views are taken into account. They welcome the work of the ILO and want it to continue.

Uzbekistan has made significant progress in ending the use of children during the cotton harvest. This is to be welcomed, though vigilance needs to be maintained especially with respect to the vulnerable 16–17 year old group.

Forced labour during the cotton harvest is recognized as a risk. Recent monitoring focused on the measures taken to reduce the risk of forced labour. A forthcoming ILO survey identifies categories of cotton pickers as voluntary, reluctant and involuntary and highlights the high-risk categories. The survey shows that ending forced labour is feasible through a combination of measures aimed at raising awareness, improving working conditions in order to increase the number of voluntary pickers who are also more productive, and strengthening enforcement and remediation.

Some interesting trends

The majority of workers participated in the harvest on a voluntary basis, increasing from 60 per cent of all pickers in 2014 to 66 per cent in 2015. The proportion of reluctant workers – i.e. those who felt social pressure to participate, but did not report any actual or perceived threat of penalty – decreased over the period (29 per cent of all cotton pickers in 2014, 20 per cent in 2015). At the same time, the number of involuntary pickers increased (11 per cent in 2014; 14 per cent in 2015), primarily towards the end of the harvest.

Encouragingly, the figures of the survey findings indicate that involuntary participation of cotton pickers could be eliminated altogether, even without resorting to full-scale mechanization. This research suggests that the voluntary workforce could be increased significantly with improvements in wages and working conditions. Responses to the household survey suggest that 1.7 million people would willingly participate in future harvests under current conditions, 1.15 million would participate voluntarily if remuneration was higher, and another 476,000 would participate voluntarily if working and living conditions were improved.

The ILO is working with the national coordination council against child labour and forced labour to change the policy and legislative framework and to build capacity of its constituents - government and employers’ and workers’ organizations in Uzbekistan on key issues including occupational safety and health, employment, social dialogue, social protection and eradication of forced and child labour that are elements of an integrated approach to the sustainable eradication of child and forced labour. Such work aims to ensure that workers in Uzbekistan, including those engaged in temporary seasonal agricultural work do so freely and under decent conditions, respecting fundamental principles and rights at work.