The government of Uzbekistan has strong political will to put an end to the problem of forced labor but the authorities in the regions do not have the capacity to absorb and execute the vast number of decrees and resolutions that the center issues reports Beate Andrees, the head of the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) Department for Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
Beate Andrees said that children were not being exploited during the cotton harvest and that the coercion of adults to work in the fields was being systematically tackled by the authorities during her presentation of the report entitled “Third-party monitoring of measures against child labour and forced labour during the 2017 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan” that had been commissioned by the World Bank.
Harvesting cotton. Photo by Timur Karpov, Fergana News
The ILO report is based on data from over 3,000 personal interviews for which a representative sample of 2.6 million cotton pickers was created, as well as information received from over 1,000 telephone interviews with citizens of the republic. ILO stresses that the study was conducted without warning to and participation of government officials.
In the report, ILO found that the vast majority of cotton growers work voluntarily on the plantations and that Uzbeks are well aware of the inadmissibility of child and forced labor. The report also confirms that children are not systematically used to work the fields.
ILO also stressed the actions of the central government - increasing the pay for cotton pickers, instructing local administrations to hire them only on a voluntary basis and excluding some "risk groups" (students, educators and health workers) in the initial stage of the season. The report does not mention, though, whether they are then at a later stage officially invited to pick cotton.
The collection of cotton contributes to the economic empowerment of rural women, ILO continued in its report. The international organization notes that "for many of them, cotton harvest is the only opportunity for additional earnings which they can spend independently and for the benefit of their families."
In 2016, ILO carried out a similar monitoring exercise, which had also confirmed the absence of systematic use of child and forced labor in the cotton industry of Uzbekistan. However, the reports of independent organizations and individual human rights defenders completely contradict the data of the International Labour Organisation.
The same happened again with regard to ILO’s 2017 monitoring mission. Fergana News reported, for example, how in the autumn of 2017, human rights activist Yelena Urlayeva discovered children working in the fields of the Balykchy district of the Andijan province. She photographed the fifth-grade pupils of School No. 1, who picked cotton under the supervision of the teacher. The human rights activist also recorded how the teachers of School No. 13 led pupils of the lower classes onto the fields.
Umida Niyazova, the head of the Uzbek-German Human Forum, also questioned the ILO conclusions, saying that they are far from reality because the methodology of the study do not meet the standards of independent and objective research."
Earlier, Umida Niyazova described the cotton campaign-2017 as follows: "The last cotton harvest was indeed collected without students, but there were still attempts to bring teachers and medical workers back onto the fields. And although most of the students were indeed free from the cotton harvest for the first time in many years, other segments of the population were again forced to participate in the campaign. President Mirziyoyev said in his speech that forced labor in the cotton industry is now over. Unfortunately, this does not hold up to scrutiny and the President either does not know it or he is deliberately misleading. I am ready to note the tendency to change the situation for the better, but there is still a lot to do to ensure that forced labor is indeed a thing of the past."