The cotton harvest will begin soon. Our government has signaled that it will once again force people who have no relation to agriculture to pick cotton, as it has in all previous years.
Forced labor is any work or service obtained from any person involuntarily and under threat of any penalty. Forced labor is prohibited under Article 7 of the Labour Code of Uzbekistan and Conventions 29 and 105 of the International Labour Organization (ILO), which our government has ratified.
When officials from the level of the Prime Minister to the district governor forcibly mobilize teachers, medical professionals, college students, and others to pick cotton, the officials are violating our fellow citizens’ human rights, which the laws of Uzbekistan are supposed to protect.
Paradoxically, the police and prosecutors, whose mandate is to enforce the law are themselves involved in this illegal exploitation.
In contrast to the government’s propaganda, cotton is not our national wealth. Profits from the sale of cotton are controlled by a small group of officials. Only they know where the income from the export of cotton goes. These officials are robbing the nation of our labor and resources, yet they will maintain the system to continue reaping the profits.
Meanwhile, Uzbekistan is receiving more than $500 million US dollars from the Asian Development Bank, $400 million from the World Bank and more than $230 million from the European Union to reform agriculture. Furthermore, the ILO is providing technical assistance on the application of labor laws consistent with international standards. For any international assistance to help Uzbek people, our government needs to find the political will to reform.
Now, we have only one way to resist the forced labor that the government continues as its policy and practice: Speak out! We might not change the situation immediately, but we can tell the world what is really going on.
Our organization, the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, will monitor the forced labor of adults and children during the harvest this year. We need your support. We ask you to help us collect accurate information.
If you or your loved ones are forced to pick cotton; if you are forced to pay money to avoid picking cotton, please, share with us your information by sending an email to: NoForcedLabor@gmail.com