Uzbek Government Should Take Urgent Action to Protect Independent Monitoring and Reporting on Labor Rights and Demonstrate Commitment to International Standards

(Washington, D.C., May 2, 2024) – The Uzbek government should take prompt and concrete action to investigate the aggressive harassment of leading human rights activist Umida Niyazova, and publicly affirm its commitment to allow independent monitoring and reporting on labor rights in the cotton sector, the Cotton Campaign said today. The incident targeting Niyazova, founder and director of Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, occurred amidst escalating intimidation and pressure on independent labor monitors, which stands to negatively impact the government and industry’s efforts to attract sourcing by global brands following the elimination of systemic state-imposed forced labor in the cotton harvest in 2021. Uzbek Forum, a frontline partner of the Cotton Campaign, has conducted independent monitoring of the cotton harvest in Uzbekistan every year since 2010 and also monitors the impacts of the agricultural reforms on farmers.

On April 18, 2024, Niyazova and Sharifa Madrakhimova, a prominent journalist and human rights activist, were ambushed by two men they did not know when they were outside Madrakhimova’s house in the Fergana region. The two men intimidated and insulted Niyazova and Madrakhimova and accused Niyazova of “organizing information attacks against Uzbekistan”. Niyazova and Madrakhimova got in their car to avoid further interaction and one of the men gripped the door to prevent them from closing it and driving away. Niyazova and Madrakhimova had been traveling throughout the region to meet with farmers and representatives of cotton companies. Fearing for their own safety and that of the farmers and local human rights activists they were planning to meet, Niyazova cut her trip short.

“This outrageous attempt to intimidate Niyazova and Madrakhimova rings the alarm about Uzbekistan’s willingness to comply with international rules governing supply chains. Uzbek Forum’s independent monitors played a critical role in driving an end to systemic state-imposed forced labor of children and adults in the Uzbek cotton sector”, said Allison Gill, Legal Director at Global Labor Justice, which hosts the Cotton Campaign. “And their work is vital to further Uzbekistan’s progress towards meeting international standards in its cotton and textile industry. If Uzbekistan wants to demonstrate its readiness to participate in global supply chains that pay increasing attention to labor rights, it is essential that labor rights monitors and workers can monitor and report on conditions without fear of intimidation, harassment, or surveillance.

One of the men who intimidated Niyazova and Madrakhimova was later identified as Shukhrat Esanov, who has a YouTube channel and lives in Fergana, approximately 1.5 hours from where he approached Niyazova and Madrakhimova. It is unclear how Esanov knew Madrakhimova’s home address and that Niyazova would be there that morning. Esanov also revealed he knew exactly where Niyazova had already visited during her trip as well as her future plans, suggesting that Niyazova and Madrakhimova had been under surveillance, and raising questions about how he had access to information regarding their whereabouts and plans. This incident takes place against the backdrop of escalating harassment of human rights activists in Uzbekistan and creates a chilling effect on labor rights monitoring, which may undermine global buyers’ confidence in sourcing from Uzbekistan.

Since the lifting of the Uzbek Cotton Pledge, the Cotton Campaign has engaged the Uzbek government and industry as well as global brands to encourage responsible sourcing from Uzbekistan. This approach can enable access to global markets, and in turn provide opportunities for sustainable economic growth and decent work in the Uzbek cotton and textiles industry. But to make this a reality, Uzbekistan should demonstrate commitment to international standards for human and labor rights in supply chains. Unrestricted independent monitoring and reporting on labor rights is a fundamental element of a sustainable and attractive cotton industry.

To comply with rapidly emerging transnational supply chain human rights legislation, global brands need credible independent monitoring and reporting on labor rights at every level of their supply chains“, said Nate Herman, Senior Vice President of Policy, American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA). “Freedoms of speech, movement, and association are fundamental to a sustainable cotton and textile industry, and we urge the Uzbek government to ensure that independent monitors are allowed to investigate and report on labor rights without fear of reprisal.”

The incident of April 18 is the latest in a series of incidents preventing independent monitors, workers, and other independent voices from speaking out on rights violations. Two separate incidents of harassment took place the  week before Niyazova and Madrakhimova were intimidated. Police summoned and interrogated for several hours a member of the Ezgulik human rights organization and a farmer, both based in Kasbi district of Kashkadarya. Police accused both of engaging in actions that are “harmful to Uzbekistan”.

In another recent case, in January 2024, an official from the Ministry of Internal Affairs threatened an Uzbek Forum monitor with criminal charges and said the monitor’s life is in danger for engaging with farmworkers at cotton company Indorama Agro and reporting on labor rights violations there. In August 2023, another Uzbek Forum monitor was prevented from traveling to Kazakhstan to participate in a labor rights training, after the district police seized their passport and did not release it until after their scheduled travel date.

Obstructing independent monitoring and human rights activism has a chilling effect and is contrary to the Uzbekistan government’s stated reform pledges and international human rights obligations,” said Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Uzbek government should ensure that independent monitors and activists can carry out their important work without fear of harassment or persecution.

“Having eliminated systemic state-imposed forced labor in the harvest, Uzbekistan now has the opportunity to attract responsible sourcing by global brands, which would help expand and reward good practices at those cotton companies that are already innovating and investing in upskilling and state-of-the-art technology”, said Bennett Freeman, Cotton Campaign co-founder and former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. “But to realize this opportunity, Uzbekistan must allow human rights defenders to carry out their vital work without restrictions.”


The Cotton Campaign is a coalition of human and labor rights NGOs, independent trade unions, brand and retail associations, responsible investor organizations, supply chain transparency groups, and academic partners, united to end forced labor and promote decent work for cotton workers in Central Asia.

Uzbek Forum for Human Rights is a frontline partner of the Cotton Campaign and has conducted independent monitoring of the cotton harvest in Uzbekistan every year since 2010.

  • Uzbek Forum’s monitoring has been critical to identify the root causes of forced labor and exploitative working conditions in the cotton sector of Uzbekistan and inform the Cotton Campaign’s advocacy, campaigning, and engagement with the Uzbek government and industry, which has resulted in significant and meaningful reforms.

  • Following the elimination of systemic state-imposed forced labor in the harvest in 2021, Uzbek Forum’s monitoring remains vital to the Cotton Campaign’s work and more broadly to the work of all stakeholders seeking to make further labor rights gains in Uzbekistan.

  • Uzbek Forum is registered in Germany. It was founded and is led by Umida Niyazova, a leading Uzbek human rights activist who was forced to flee Uzbekistan in 2008, after serving four months in prison on criminal charges brought against her for her human rights work.

  • Uzbek Forum’s monitors have years of experience in documenting human rights violations and forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector and live and work in the areas they monitor. The monitors are trained in human rights, interview techniques and data collection.