The original article by Gautam Naik in the S&P GLOBAL MARKET INTELLIGENCE

December 18, 2019

In early October 2019, two men from the tax department of Uzbekistan’s Jizzakh region knocked on the door of a 36-year-old clothing entrepreneur called Ugiloy. They told her to report to a nearby field and pick cotton for the rest of the fall harvest.

The demand was not a surprise, said Ugiloy, who had been forced to pick cotton as a schoolgirl and was ordered to do the same in each of the past seven years. This year, she hired three volunteer cotton pickers and paid them a total of 2.9 million som, or $300, to work in her place. “I wanted to keep my clothing shop open because it is my livelihood,” said Ugiloy, who declined to provide her last name for fear of repercussions.

Cotton is a vital $1 billion-a-year cash crop for the Uzbek government. For years, farmers were required to buy seeds and fertilizer from a state-run company, meet state production quotas and sell their cotton to the state at artificially low prices. But with a new reform-minded president in place since late 2016, there are signs that the practice is much less systematic today, and slowly is being rolled back. The number of Uzbeks forced to work the fields has fallen from one million a decade ago to potentially less than half that.Each year, tens of thousands of Uzbeks pick cotton against their will, or risk fines or the loss of jobs and benefits. A vestige of Soviet-era central planning, the program mainly dragoons public sector employees, including doctors, teachers, nurses, bankers and police officers, to harvest cotton between September and November. With a total of 2.5 million people in the fields — including forced-labor crews — it remains one of the largest recruitment programs anywhere in the world.

Full article is available here