According to the International Labour Organisation, forced labour use dropped by 48 per cent. About 70 per cent of the country’s farmland is dedicated to growing cotton and wheat. One adult in five picks cotton. Forms of illegal employment and fines encourage exploitation.
Tashkent (AsiaNews) – The International Labour Organisation (ILO), a United Nations agency, has reported a dramatic drop in the use of forced labour in cotton production in Uzbekistan in 2018.
The Cotton Campaign, an international coalition against forced labour in Uzbekistan, disagrees. For years, it has complained that Uzbeks have been forced into picking cotton, the country’s most profitable industry
The NGO acknowledges "significant progress " but underscores that workers are still subject to systemic exploitation.
Cotton harvesting by hand remains the main practice in the Central Asian country, and children are conscripted as well.
ILO’s report Third party monitoring of child labor and forced labor during the 2018 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan was published on 1st April.
The document cites data from the World Bank, which indicate that Uzbekistan is the world’s sixth-largest cotton producer in the world, dedicating 65 per cent of its irrigation resources and 13 per cent of its electricity to the crop.
In the past, several countries – and the European Union – have boycotted Uzbek cotton because of forced child labour.
Last year the ILO announced that forced child labour had been eliminated thanks also to reforms introduced by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who succeeded the late Islam Karimov.
The harvest starts in September until first week of December. According to the UN agency, in estimated 170,000 Uzbek citizens were forced to pick cotton during the 2018 harvest, 48 per cent drop from the previous year.
The ILO also reports that wages "increased by up to 85 per cent compared to the previous harvest," and that "cotton pickers were paid on time and in full."
In a country of more than 27 million people, almost one-fifth of its adult population (2.5 million) picks cotton each year, according to the report.
Furthermore, more than 70 per cent of its farmland is devoted to cotton and wheat, despite attempts to diversify production.
Yesterday Cotton Campaign released the results of an independent survey carried out by the Germany-based Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (UGF), based on 70 in-depth interviews and 300 field visits to 100 monitored farms.
For the NGO, there are signs of progress, but enormous challenges remain due mostly to structural factors, such as the top-down quota system that leads officials to send people to pick cotton, especially in rural areas, this according to UGF director Umida Niyazova.
Other problems are the centralised production system, labour shortages in rural districts, the drop in voluntary labour over the course of the picking season, government cotton quotas per regions that officials are required to fulfill.
All this is behind the use of forced labour as officials require businesses, entrepreneurs, public sector agencies, and institutions to send their employees to the fields or pay for replacement pickers.