Each year, the government of Uzbekistan forces millions of citizens to grow and harvest cotton, and each year the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights documents this gross human rights violation. We photograph and film the forced laborers toiling in cotton fields, gather documentary evidence, and conduct interviews with hundreds of victims of forced labor, including students, teachers, doctors and employees of state-owned and private companies.
When cotton is ready to be harvested each autumn, typically between September and November, a common misfortune unites the country: The government imposes a burden to contribute to the cotton harvest. Most people have lived with the burden their entire lives, and it is a burden their parents and grandparents endured. So they get used to it, and do not question it. ‘Someone has to pick cotton,’ is a commonly heard statement of resignation.
The cotton sector in Uzbekistan is one of the only cases in the world in which the government uses forced labor as a matter of policy.
Lest anyone forget, there are real human lives behind the government of Uzbekistan’s state-sponsored forced labour system of cotton production. With this series “Stories of Forced Labour,” UGF presents the voices of forced labour victims of forced labour. These are the stories of people who, at the time of the interview with UGF, just returned home from the cotton fields. To protect them from retaliation from the Uzbek authorities, we have concealed the interviewees’ names and locations.