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Forced and child labour

Activists welcome progress towards eradication of forced labour, child labour in Uzbekistan

A conference in Brussels has welcomed an ILO report that found the Uzbek government did not systematically use child labour or forced labour during the 2018 cotton harvest. The report found that government reforms are having an impact, but that there are still many challenges at local level.

Press release | 03 April 2019
BRUSSELS (ILO News) – A new report ILO shows the Uzbek government did not systematically use child labour or forced labour during the 2018 cotton harvest. Human rights activists welcomed the progress but also demanded further reforms.

The report, presented at a conference in Brussels, found that 93 per cent of those involved in the 2018 cotton harvest were not forced to work and that the systematic recruitment of students, teachers, doctors and nurses was a thing of the past.

However, there were still cases of recruitment of state institutions’ staff at local level, and 206 officials and managers were disciplined for forced labour violations, leading to fines, demotions and dismissals. The feedback mechanisms operated by the Ministry of Labour and the Federation of Trade Unions received and investigated more than 2,500 cases.

Child labour, which was previously a serious problem during harvest time, is no longer a major concern.

My country is really changing. People can feel the difference."

Azam Farmanov, an independent Human Rights Activist
“My country is really changing. People can feel the difference,” said Azam Farmanov, an independent Human Rights Activist, who was jailed for 11 years and only released at the end of 2017, as part of sweeping reforms. “Uzbekistan still has work to do in many areas but the significant progress on child labour and forced labour makes me optimistic that we can also make progress on other issues,” said Farmanov, who participated in the ILO monitoring of the 2018 harvest.

“Various awareness-raising programmes and capacity-building initiatives in educational institutions and for local authorities were introduced, and feedback mechanisms have been implemented,” said Tanzila Narbaeva, Deputy Prime Minister of Uzbekistan, who attended the conference. “We look forward to continue our cooperation with the ILO, the World Bank and civil society to further sustain progress in this area.”

Other independent human rights activists, representatives of workers’ and employers’ organizations, as well as European Commission, World Bank and ILO representatives were also at the conference in Brussels to discuss the report, Third-party monitoring of measures against child labour and forced labour during the 2018 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan.

The report is based on more than 11,000 unaccompanied and unannounced interviews with a representative sample of the country’s 2.5 million cotton pickers. The ILO has been monitoring the cotton harvest for child labour since 2013. In 2015, it began monitoring the harvest for forced labour and child labour as part of an agreement with the World Bank.

“The 2018 cotton harvest was an important milestone in Uzbekistan’s reform process and successful fight against child labour and forced labour. This effort has encompassed not only government institutions but also journalists and all groups of civil society, including critical voices of individual activists. This is an encouraging sign for the sustainability of these results. However, a minority [6.8 per cent] of pickers were still forced to participate in the harvest. This amounts to 170,000 people,” said Heinz Koller, ILO Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia.

Graph: Trends in wages and percentage of forced labour 2015-2018

Cotton pickers’ wages have been increased in line with recommendations by the ILO and the World Bank. The ILO recommends that the government continues to increase wages and also addresses working conditions more broadly, to attract voluntary pickers.

The ILO Third-Party Monitoring (TPM) project in Uzbekistan will now focus on the remaining challenges, particularly the gradual transfer of responsibility for monitoring to labour inspectors, trade unions, local human rights activists and investigative journalists. There will also be a focus on enabling responsible foreign investment and trade with the Uzbek garment and textile industry, which has the potential to help completely eradicate forced labour while also creating hundreds of thousands of decent jobs for the country.

The monitoring also shows that rising wages for cotton picking benefits women in rural areas in particular. The cotton harvest provides many women with a unique opportunity to earn extra income which they control and can use to improve the situation of their families. On average, each cotton picker participated in the harvest for 21 days, and the wages earned from picking represented 39.9 percent of their personal annual income.

The ILO TPM Project is funded by a multi-donor trust fund with major contributions from the European Union, the United States and Switzerland.