Relatives of Sanjar Baratov, a 33-year-old farmer from the Jizzakh region in Uzbekistan, said that he took his own life because he felt desperate after Enforcement Bureau officers confiscated his property for failure to pay off a bank loan.
Rights groups on Friday disputed findings by the United Nations showing Uzbekistan has nearly eliminated forced labor from its cotton industry, saying that exploitation is still “systematic”
In some ways, there is nothing surprising about the videos that have been doing the rounds on social media in Uzbekistan. In one, farmers and local officials in a district near Tashkent, the capital, were made to stand in a watery ditch, heads bowed, to show contrition for failing to irrigate wheat fields properly. In another, officials were made to heave heavy clods of clay into the air repeatedly as punishment for allowing such impediments to farming to accumulate on land they are in charge of. Such ritual humiliation is rife in Uzbekistan, where nearly three decades of dictatorship under Islam Karimov, the strongman who died in 2016, bred a culture of bullying and subservience.
On the evening of October 25, the journalist found out that the hokim of the Kushkupir district was holding a meeting with the principals of schools and kindergartens and heads of rural medical institutions to discuss the mobilization of their employees to pick cotton. Ruzmetov immediately went to the hokimiyat and recorded the meeting on his mobile phone. When the hokim noticed the journalist’s presence, he interrupted the meeting.
The Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (UGF) continues to monitor forced labor during this year’s cotton harvest in Uzbekistan. UGF monitors collecting information in seven out of Uzbekistan’s 13 regions are recording massive forced mobilization to pick cotton or the demand to pay for replacement workers.
Corruption and regimes of forced labour in Uzbekistan are closely entwined. This is exhibited most acutely in the cotton sector. Revenues from the export of cotton are hidden by the state, and rent-seeking from public officials goes hand in hand with the coerced recruitment process.
Washington, DC – Today the U.S. government upgraded the Uzbek government’s ranking in its 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report to the Tier 2 Watch List, a category denoting nations that deserve special scrutiny, despite acknowledging that “government-compelled forced labor remained during the 2017 cotton harvest.” The Cotton Campaign believes that the 2017 harvest should have been the primary basis of the determination and that given the massive scale of the forced labor in last year’s harvest, the decision does not sufficiently reflect these most recent facts on the ground. Moreover, the Cotton Campaign is concerned that the decision to upgrade Uzbekistan, may prematurely diminish the government’s incentive to translate its recent commitments into action to end systematic forced labor.
Uzbekistan, a leading producer of silk cocoons, relies on forced labor for their production, which violates the rights of farmers and public-sector workers and exploits the vulnerability of the rural poor. Uzbek farmers must produce silk cocoons under coercion to fulfill government quotas and they must sell their cocoons to the government at the official procurement price, leaving them little or no profit, and in many cases in debt
A monitor from Uzbek-German Forum interviewed a farmer from the Khorezm region who described his experience with the command system of management in the Uzbekistan’s agriculture sector. Farmers do not have the freedom to choose what crops to grow; the state sets the prices and can arbitrarily and punitively “redistribute” the land of the farm at any time, despite an existing lease, leaving farmers in a particularly vulnerable situation.
A first-ever delegation representing the Cotton Campaign presented recommendations on how to end systematic forced labor in the cotton sector to senior Uzbek government officials on its visit to Tashkent from May 10-16, 2018. The delegation also consulted independently with civil society activists, farmers and representatives of international agencies and ambassadors of other interested governments at this hopeful time for reform in Uzbekistan.