Tashkent (AsiaNews) – Uzbek authorities arrested, detained, deported and banned from the country Dr Andre Mrost, an international labour rights consultant, who was looking into child labour practices in the country’s cotton industry, the Cotton Campaign international advocacy group said.
Dr Mrost’s treatment raises questions about Uzbekistan’s commitment to international human rights conventions and the feasibility of the World Bank’s agricultural programs in Uzbekistan.
The consultant was in Uzbekistan after his firm, Just Solutions Network, Ltd., won a contract to implement a feedback mechanism required under the terms of World Bank loans.
His presence in the Central Asian nation was part of a plan to monitor the child labour situation and one of the conditions the World Bank insisted upon in order to free up loans for Uzbekistan's agricultural sector.
The Cotton Campaign statement quoted Mrost as saying that "three men in black" and three policemen approached him on 19 March, demanded his passport and took him to a police station where he was interrogated first by an Uzbek Labour Ministry official, then by the police, and finally by someone from the country’s national security service.
Dr Mrost said he was forced to sign a document in Uzbek, a language he does not understand, and then escorted to the airport where passport control stamped his passport with an order banning his re-entry.
When he was arrested, the respected Russian labour rights activist, a former regional representative to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), was at a meeting with representatives of Ezgulik, the country’s only registered human rights NGO.
The use of child labour in cotton fields is an inhumane practice with a long history in the country. In recent years, dissidents and activists have repeatedly called for a boycott of Uzbek cotton because of this widespread practice.
At harvest time, children are forced to work in the fields, usually between mid-September and November, because they are paid less than adults.
With this in mind, the government shuts down schools. Some reports indicate that children have been threatened with expulsion and their families with public shaming if they refuse to follow orders.
Cotton represents 25 per cent of the country’s exports (in 2011). Although some large American and European retail chains repeatedly refuse to buy cotton from Uzbekistan, the country's authorities have always found ways to circumvent obstacles.
They have for example encouraged selling cotton to the garment industries of countries like China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, which then export the finished product.