Reports by the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (UGF) monitors
In Bukhara region, the tax inspectorate began collecting payments for the cotton harvest from local business owners on August 20. Officials collected an average of 400,000 ($100) from each business. They told business owners that the money was to hire cotton pickers, but offered no further information about the amount collected or how it would be accounted for.
In Jizzak region, the heads of the district government offices (hokimiyats) convened a meeting with the administrators of public-sector institutions and neighbourhood committees (mahalla) to plan mobilization for the cotton harvest, on August 15. The district governors ordered each mahalla chairman to organize 100-200 residents to pick cotton, focusing on those who receive social welfare benefits. The governors ordered administrators of public institutions- primarily primary schools, high schools and hospitals- to organize their employees into shifts to pick cotton. The administration of the Jizzak Pedagogical Institute arranged a camp to accommodate its students when they pick cotton in the Dustlik district, and local residents noted that the camp has bunk beds and insufficient space to have separate rooms for female and male students.
Several administrators from public institutions in Tashkent visited Jizzak to arrange accommodations for their employees to sleep during their shifts picking cotton. For example, the administration of the Ministry of Higher and Secondary Education, located in Tashkent, plans to send 30 employees to pick cotton in Jizzak for one month.
In Kashkadarya region, administrators of several hospitals required staff to sign a commitment to perform agricultural work and an undated resignation letter. One document read, “I (NAME) commit to actively participate in public and agricultural work. In case of failure to do so, I agree to be dismissed. This document has been written by me.” The other read, “It is my request to resign from this post.” Hospital staff report their concern that if they refuse to pick cotton, a date will be added to the resignation letter to fire them at “their own will.”
In Syrdarya region, school administrators ordered teachers to distribute leaflets encouraging residents to pick cotton. The administrators also obliged the teachers to collect signatures from people indicating their agreement to harvest cotton, and lists of the signatures were shared with the neighbourhood committees (mahalla). Residents reported that they fear reprisals if they do not sign up.
In Tashkent region, the Angren city administration convened a meeting with administrators of public institutions and company managers to plan mobilization of their employees to the cotton harvest. The Angren city administration is coordinating with the Buka district administration for Angren residents to pick cotton in Buka. Angren administrators sent some employees to Buka on August 20 to arrange accommodations for those sent to pick cotton. Notably, Buka district is a project area of the World Bank, which has committed to suspend its lending to the Uzbek government if there is forced or child labour in its project areas.
Independent Media Reports
The cotton harvest begins in a few days. Health care workers, teachers, students, soldiers, and other professionals will pick cotton “voluntarily,” it is reported. The money earned from the cotton harvest has never been enough to pay for their food and transportation to the fields.
And there is always someone too “lazy” to go, the BBC notes. For them, there are workers for hire who can collect their assigned cotton harvest quota. The BBC spoke to one of the workers offering the service.
“In one day, I will collect 30 kilograms of cotton for you. If you need to find 10 more cotton pickers, I can find them,” the man said. He is 20 years old and works as a loader. It is no secret that he is not alone in Uzbekistan.
Elderly teachers, doctors, and employees of other public institutions, particularly those who are not in good health, are required to hire a substitute to pick their assigned quota of cotton if they do not do it themselves, and they must pay the worker out-of-pocket.
A doctor told the BBC that he was fed up with these payments. “Last year I paid 300,000 soum ($90) to hire a worker to pick my quota, 50 kilograms of cotton a day.”
On Facebook, an advertisement was posted in Uzbek, stating “I’ll pick cotton for you.” On her Facebook page, Yulia Drozdova wrote, “We received orders from our institution that three people should pick cotton in Jizzak.” On his page, Timur Allayarov wrote,
“It’s very sad. Imagine yourself in the place of a kindergarten teacher. Their wages are 200,000 – 400,000 soum. They are forced to write that they will pick cotton ‘voluntarily’ and are sent to the field for 1.5-2 months. The hired worker who goes instead of someone charges 20,000 – 30,000 soum per day. Those who do not want to pick cotton are forced to retire.”
“‘Бировнинг ўрнига пахтага бораман,’” BBC O’zbek, 27 August 2015, http://www.bbc.com/uzbek/uzbekistan/2015/08/150827_uzbek_cotton_volunteers
“In Uzbekistan, the cotton campaign has begun. Health workers, students, and other citizens are forcefully sent to the cotton fields.”
The Uzbek government ordered students in their 3rd and 4th year at the National University of Uzbekistan to prepare for departure to the cotton fields. According to Radio Ozodlik sources, students from NUU (formerly known as Tashkent State University) will pick cotton in Dashtabad city in the Zaamin district of the Jizzak region. Representatives of the school already visited Jizzak to arrange accommodations for the students during their time harvesting cotton.
“This is the first time the National University will send the students. Previously, only students enrolled there with scholarships for having served in the army went to the cotton harvest. This year the others will go as well,” reported Radio Ozodlik sources.
Meanwhile, health care workers are already working in the fields. Employees of the Medical Association of Yangiariq District (formerly “Guliston”) in the Khorezm region sent a letter to Ozodlik, reporting that the institution is sending between 350 and 400 doctors and nurses to the cotton fields every day. The workers cited unsatisfactory conditions in their letter:
“At 7:30 in the morning, we are taken to the field on a crowded bus. In the evening, often after 8:00 PM, we are taken back. They take us to impassable fields where our boots get filled with sand and the buses get stuck. There is no way to avoid it. When the bus gets stuck, the nurses have to push it. And there is no payment for the harvested cotton. Food is not provided. Everyone must bring their own bread and tomatoes. The cotton is very low. In the sand, there are a lot of snakes.”
The medical workers added that anyone who refuses to go to the harvest must pay, “It costs 10,000 soum (about $2.50) per day.”
However, the head of the Medical Association of Yangiariq, Umid Jumaniyazov, denied the allegations in the letter. In an interview with Ozodlik, Mr. Jumaniyazov said, “The cotton season will begin soon. It has not yet started. It’s all a lie. We will leave for the field only after the official order is given.”
In the Yangiariq district administration office (hokimiyat), staff report that the cotton harvest has begun but the official order to mobilize people has not yet arrived from the regional administration. Official reports state that mobilization to the cotton harvest began in Syrdarya, Surkhandarya and Kashkadarya regions and that in villages throughout the country leaflets have been distributed calling on people to participate in the harvest. Teachers, neighbourhood committees (mahalla), the veterans’ organization “Nuroniy,” and the youth organization “Kamalot” are visiting residences and collecting signatures of people confirming that they are willing to participate in the cotton harvest. The owner of the residence, household members, passport details and signatures of consent to participate in the cotton harvest are recorded on a form, and completed forms are submitted to the chairman of mahallas, who in turn give them to their municipal and regional administrations.
If someone tries to refuse to commit to participating in the cotton harvest, they threaten to cut their pensions and benefits or to deny certificates required by various services. However, to avoid the field, you can pay for an exemption, for 300,000 soum (approximately $62).
“For several years in our area, natural gas has been cut off, so we have to use propane. When you call the gas company to get propane, they require you to present a certificate from the mahalla. In the mahalla, they say, ‘You’ll get a certificate if you send someone to the cotton field.’ In our family, my father is disabled; all my younger siblings go to school, and I earn a living working as a taxi driver. The mahalla threatens that if you don’t participate in the cotton harvest, we won’t have any gas and no pension for our father,” said a resident of Bakhmal district, Jizzak region.
The resident of Bakhmal, in an interview with Ozodlik, reported that picking cotton means going to Mirzachul district from morning until the evening without being paid.
“Those who have gone to pick cotton returned with ticks and lice. If you see the so-called ‘drinking water’ and toilet, you will be scared. They feed people with very bad food and keep the money for the collected cotton. Having worked in the field for two months, I will return home in debt for the food, and the mahalla will demand compensation. Therefore, no one wants to go to pick cotton,” the Bakhmal taxi driver explained.
He added that it is most difficult for those whose relatives work abroad. “They have to pay the mahalla for at least four people.”
“В Узбекистане началась хлопковая кампания. На поля принудительно вывозят медработников, студентов и других граждан,” Fergana Information Agency, 31 August 2015, http://enews.fergananews.com/
Officials ordered public-sector workers and employees of neighborhood committees (mahallas) to start harvesting cotton on September 5 for those in Tashkent and September 10 for those in Andijan. The cost to avoid picking cotton is 800,000 soum (approximately $180) per person. Officials are also requiring businesses to contribute to the cotton harvest.
In the Jizzak region, medical, education, and banking institutions will send staff to pick cotton for 45 days, starting September 5. Private companies have received the same order for their employees. In an interview with Radio Ozodlik, the owner of an auto repair shop in Jizzak city reported that local officials ordered him to send two employees for 45 days to the cotton harvest. “So far, two of my employees have agreed to go. They say participation in the cotton harvest is compulsory, everyone should go,” said the businessman.
Another businessman in Jizzak reported that the neighborhood committees (mahallas) are visiting homes and forcing people to sign a commitment to send a family member to work the entire cotton harvest.
The commitment form includes the name and surname of the family members, their passport information, and signature.
The maintenance staff of a secondary school in the Andijan region and an employee of the Buka district hospital in the Tashkent region reported that the mobilization to the harvest will start September 10 for them.
Anyone who cannot or does not want to participate must pay a fee, and Ozodlik sources have reported that demands for the payments have already begun. A public-sector worker in Tashkent said employees from his institution have to pay 800,000 soum ($160) if they cannot go.
Over the last two years, the masse involvement of the adult population in the cotton harvest has taken on unimaginable proportions.
This year, the government of Uzbekistan is expected to obtain $1 billion in profit from cotton sales. Officials report that President Islam Karimov signed a decree to set the XI International Uzbek Cotton Fair in Tashkent, October 15-16.
“В Узбекистане с 5 сентября объявлена массовая мобилизация людей на сбор хлопка,” Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty Uzbek Service “Ozodlik”, 2 September 2015, http://www.ozodlik.org/content/article/27221742.html
“Uzbekistan is once again sending minors to the cotton fields”
The mayor of Bukhara ordered 2nd-year students in the medical college, who are under age 18, to sign a form stating their agreement to voluntarily participate in the cotton harvest. The 2nd-year medical college students will be sent to the cotton fields starting September 5, along with 3rd-year students and teachers from all other colleges in the district.
A student in the Bukhara medical college wrote to Ozodlik,
“Our principal said this year’s cotton harvest is difficult, so we will also be taken to the cotton fields. He asked us to write a form agreeing to voluntary participation in the cotton harvest, and he dictated the text of the statement. We all had to write it,” reported the student, whose identity is anonymous for security concerns.
The following is the text of the statement that students had to write:
“I NAME, a student in group NUMBER at Bukhara Medical College agree to go to pick cotton on my own will. I wrote this statement myself. DATE and SIGNATURE.”
In an interview with Ozodlik, a teacher at Bukhara Medical College confirmed, on condition of anonymity, the involvement of the students in this year’s cotton harvest:
“They announced that 3rd-year students would go to the cotton fields starting September 7. Then the acting director of the college Uktam Gaffarov instructed staff to collect from all 2nd-year students a statement of voluntary desire to participate in the cotton harvest. Now all the statements have been collected and delivered to the director,” said the teacher.
The teacher added that teachers will also be sent in groups to pick cotton:
“Nobody wants to pick cotton. But we have to. Last year, one of our colleagues was bitten by a snake during the harvest. They barely saved his life. Such incidents are suppressed, so much that hardly anyone knows about them. Last year, teachers had to pay $200-$300 to avoid the cotton harvest,” he said.
The staff of the Bukhara pedagogical college also reported to Ozodlik that colleges in the region are mobilizing students and teachers to pick cotton.
“All 3rd-year students of colleges in the region, including ours, will be taken to the cotton fields. Teachers will be sent for ten-day shifts. This is the verbal order from the Bukhara regional hokim. They say if there is a need, 2nd-year students will also go,” said the employee of Bukhara pedagogical college.
“В Узбекистане снова начали отправлять несовершеннолетних на хлопковые поля”, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty “Ozodlik”, 4 September 2015, http://www.ozodlik.org/content/article/27224618.html
 Mahalla are neighborhood committees, typically led by elders of the community, and used by the Uzbek government to implement policies at the local level.