24-year-old Sohibjon Mutalibov, an employee of Ammofos-Maxam, the largest producer of mineral fertilizers in Uzbekistan, was forcibly sent to pick cotton in the Jizzakh region on September 26, 2018. Two days later, he died following a fight with a local resident who fractured his skull. Sohibjon lay in a coma for seven days and died without regaining consciousness in hospital in the Dustlik district of the Jizzakh region. Sohibjon was one of the hundreds of thousands of employees of enterprises that were forcibly sent to pick cotton in the fall of 2018 under the threat of dismissal.

The parents of the deceased, Ibrahim and Fatima, told human rights activist Yelena Urlaeva on December 15 that their son had been working at this chemical plant for five years and was forced to pick cotton in the Jizzakh region every autumn. This year, Sohibjon did not want to go to the cotton fields and had even obtained sick leave from a doctor so that he would not have to go. But the heads of Ammofos-Maxam forced Sohibjon to go to pick cotton 200 km from his home.

According to Elena Urlaeva, the chairman of the trade union representing workers at Ammofos-Maxam supervised the forced mobilisation of workers to the Jizzakh region. An employee of Ammofos-Maxam, who requested anonymity, told Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights that workers go to pick cotton every year in accordance with a “voluntary-compulsory order”, a silent agreement to work the required number of days in the cotton fields rather than spoiling relations with their employers.

“When Sohibjon died, the company’s management refused to provide any assistance for the funeral, or any other material assistance to the family which would normally be entitled to following the loss of a breadwinner caused by an accident at work. The lawyer and the plant managers drove the parents away when they went to ask for help,” said Elena Urlaeva.

Ammofos-Maxam, located in Almalyk in the Tashkent region, is one of the largest enterprises in Uzbekistan and began operations in December 1969. It is the largest producer of nitrogenous phosphate mineral fertilizers in Uzbekistan and meets 85% of the demand of the agriculture sector for phosphate fertilizers. The enterprise is part of the joint-stock company, Uzkimyosanoat. In February 2009, 49% of stocks of the enterprise were sold to a foreign investor, the Spanish corporation “Maxam Corp. S.A.U”.

In February 2014, over 3,000 tonnes of chemicals leaked from the plant causing environmental damage to rivers and groundwater. The company was fined the equivalent of $10,300 US.