INTERVIEW WITH ANDRE MROST
Andre Mrost has a PhD in physical geography and
studied environmental impact of large irrigation projects, including Uzbekistan
within the UNEP - Institute of Deserts study of the Aral Sea drying. He is also
an expert in the international labour relations with 18 year experience of
working for the global trade unions. Later he was a researcher on corporate
social responsibility, CSR, and is a certified auditor on SA 8000 social
standard. Andre took part in training child and forced labour monitors of the Uzbek German Forum, was
detained by the Uzbek security in Tashkent in times of the President Karimov
and expelled from Uzbekistan.
Dmitry Tikhonov, interviewer, is an journalist and
human rights activist from Uzbekistan where he was involved in monitoring child
and forced labour in the Uzbek cotton sector. Dimtry was detained for his human
rights activity by the Uzbek security forces, his house was burned down
together with computers and archive, and he had to flee to France avoiding
arrest and imprisonment.
Dmitry Tikhonov. Good morning, Andre. The topic of our
conversation today is the ILO policy and monitoring mission in Uzbekistan, child labor
and forced labor, primarily in cotton sector
Tell me a little about your experience, as far as
I know, you once collaborated with the ILO on the one hand, and on the other
hand you trained the activists of the Uzbek-German Forum (UGF) to monitor child and forced labor, if my memory serves me
right since 2014 , so you have a good understanding of the approaches of these
two organizations to monitoring.
Andre Mrost. Good morning, Dmitry. Yes, exactly, I
will only add: I was not only training UGF activists in labor relations
regulations, including the ILO international labor standards and its
procedures. The most important thing is that together with the UGF
activists, and basing
on the personal experience of each of them, we built the philosophy, strategy,
programs and monitoring methodology precisely for civil society, “sharpened” for specific conditions of an authoritarian regime,
intimidation of the people, and most
importantly - for the goal of public disclosure
of a state system of organization of forced labor as
the main cause of child and forced labor in Uzbekistan, and its subsequent dismantling. As a
participant in the events you must remember this.
D.T. Yes, I
remember how over the course of several workshops, in addition to studying the ILO Conventions and the
principles of its activities, the labor legislation of Uzbekistan, the
Government Action Plan on the elimination of child labor and other documents,
we gradually built a detailed picture of the state system of the organization
of forced labor, who and how participated in it, where there may be leaking points in hiding information from the public, who and how can
obtain such information, what is available in the open sources, what were the indicators
of child and forced labour we could use…
A.M. Yes, and
this was the most important work in accumulating experience
of civil society, different professions, different geography, different working positions and further construction on
this basis an effective monitoring
D. T. Before diving into the
methodology, I would like to ask a question. You said
that the main reason for forced and child labor in Uzbekistan is the existence
of a state system of coercion. Could there be other objective reasons: economic, technical, social, cultural?
A.M. My own
research in this area coincides with the opinion of almost all civil society
activists from Uzbekistan, with whom I spoke: with current level of unemployment, especially in rural areas of Uzbekistan, if the authorities
would organize seasonal public works for the unemployed
and the poor, and people would be paid adequate money for picking cotton (and not pennies, like now) - there would not
be any reason to force schoolchildren, students,
doctors, teachers, and workers from the cities to go to the fields. The state, which
is the owner of the cotton business, does not want to spend money. It is cheaper to force intimidated people. It is the same
with the mechanization of harvesting, because in the times of the USSR
thousands of specially created cotton harvesters worked on the cotton fields of
Uzbekistan, where did they suddenly disappear?
Harvesters require fuel, repair, maintenance,
qualified operators - all this is money. And forced labor is cheap. Therefore,
the main reason for the existence of the state system of forced labor in Uzbek
cotton is the greed of the owners of the cotton business. There are no
economic, technical or social and cultural obstacles to the complete
elimination of forced labor right tomorrow. Only greed.
D.T. Let us
return to the comparison of the monitoring methodology of the ILO and UGF. As far as I know, you are now completing a comparative
study of the methods of the ILO and UGF, could
you share the main conclusions of this study?
completing and publishing the study, I would prefer to avoid the details, so I will rather answer in general
D.T. And what
are your personal motives for conducting such a study?
A.M. There are
several of them. In different periods of my life I collaborated with different
groups of civil society. At the beginning, being engaged in the the study of the impact of large
irrigation projects on the environment, I collaborated with environmental
movement, including the international organization Friends of the Earth
International, so I am familiar with approaches of the “green”activists. Then for many years I worked in global trade unions (
where I collaborated with the ILO) - this is also an important institution of
civil society, and I know how trade unions look
at the world. Labor relations and ecology are important components of the
modern corporate social responsibility movement, CSR, or as it is more often
called now “corporate citizenship and sustainable development”. CSR now has a
serious impact on civil society and business, new concepts of “ethical
production” and “ethical consumption”, new rules and standards and new
activities: social audit and compliance monitoring have emerged. I have also
been involved in this activity, and I am a certified auditor of the social
standard SA 8000 (Social Accountability). And finally, when working on the
topic of child and forced labor in Uzbekistan, I encountered for the first time
with “pure” human rights defenders, and it was
very interesting for me to understand their vision of the world. It was also very challenging for me to use all my
experience in various fields while training UGF monitors
and developing a tailor made methodology, also applying substantial
methodological arsenal of social and compliance
In addition, I grew up and lived most of my life
in an authoritarian society and worked a lot under authoritarian regimes, and
it was of particular interest for me to understand how human rights activism
can be used to develop civil society in such countries, and how effective
international mechanisms can be.
Well, the immediate motive for my research was
the unusually contrasting conclusions in
the monitoring reports of the ILO and UGF -
how can this be? All monitors visit the same
places, and should see the same things there?
D.T. Do you know
anything about Uzbekistan’s agriculture, in particular, the cotton sector?
A.M. Quite a lot, actually. Cotton is an irrigated crop in Uzbekistan, and I, as a postgraduate student of the Institute of Deserts, participated in the
study of the environmental disaster of the Aral Sea, also within the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) project.
And low efficient irrigated agriculture in Uzbekistan
was one of the main reasons for the drying of the Aral Sea. I even wrote my
research on this issue and published it.
D.T. Good. Let’s take the bull by the
horns - what are the main shortcomings of the ILO monitoring methodology?
A.M. Firstly, I would like to distinguish between the International Labour Organization High-Level Mission (HLM)
monitoring of child labor in 2013, and later Third
Party Monitoring(TPM) for the World Bank since 2015, which actually was
initiated by International Labor Office
(also abbreviated as ILO), although both were
using (as acknowledged by the ILO itself) practically
In 2013, the Government of Uzbekistan (GoU) allowed the Monitoring of the ILO HLM in
Uzbekistan under pressure from the international community (and not least of
the international business, which heard human rights activists and threatened to boycott Uzbek
cotton), as well as by the direct order of the ILO supervisory body - Expert
Committee on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR). The
ILO then hoped to restart the child labor eradication program (IPEC) and negotiate
Decent Work Country Program (DWCP) in Uzbekistan, and
the DWCP was launched. However, later the
International Labor Office (ILO) decided to substitute civil society or
compliance monitoring professionals, and offered its services to the WB for
Third Party Monitoring, TPM, instead of
concentrating its efforts on implementing its
core agenda - Decent Work. This is a different story with many questions and
D.T. What are
the main negative consequences of this approach?
A.M. The main
strategic shortcoming of the ILO monitoring, both in HLM and TPM is abrupt change of the
monitoring focus from the state system of child and forced labor to simply
child and forced labor, as if it was organized by some unknown dark forces, or
some private irresponsible business.
D.T. What did
A.M. ILO experts declared that Government of Uzbekistan, GoU, allegedly wanted to end forced
labor and needed help, so ILO monitors began to roll thousands of kilometers
across Uzbekistan in search of children in the fields in order to find out from
them who sent them to pick cotton. While UGF monitors began digging evidence indicating
that it was GoU starting from the very top,
the president and the prime minister, and down to the leadership of the
mahallas, acted as a unified system of forced labour using also police, prosecutors and tax authorities, and it was that
system which sent the children and adults to the
fields. Do you understand the difference? That is, the ILO, by its approach to
monitoring, had in fact put under question what the
international community has firmly knew for
many years: the authorities are forcing people
to the fields. And the modality of the discussion with GoU made a step
back returning to the modality “does child labor and
forced labor exist in Uzbekistan or not?” instead of moving to the modality:
“when will you stop it?”.
In order for children (or doctors, or teachers, or
students) to get to the cotton fields, a lot of things need to be done: set
quotas for growing and picking cotton, organize lists of pickers, threaten disobedient, organize departure, accommodation, control cotton
picking daily rates, punish those who fell behind, establish
allegedly “public” organizations for ideological brainwashing
of the population, launch a mass media campaign calling
to the fields, report upwards on the implementation
of the plan, and all of that should work in sync, like a system. So children in the fields is a consequence of the operation
of the system, which is the reason. And question
here is, with whom and with what should one fight: with the reason or with consequences? If
with the reason, then it should have become
the main object of monitoring. In the ILO monitoring,
in both HLM and TPM, the reason changed places
with the consequences, which attracted
away attention from the main point, and, the saddest
thing, emasculated the purpose and meaning of monitoring.
So, following the strategic alteration in the focus of monitoring, methodology continued rolling
down the slope - think for yourself how it is easier to find
out the reasons for children picking cotton:
via collecting documents and evidence of the mechanism that brought them there,
or by asking children and adults preliminary brainwashed and intimidated by authorities, and in the presence of these
same authorities? The ILO chosen the second option, the UGF -
the first. This is the difference in ideology and monitoring. And, of course,
in the results.
D.T. But why
the ILO itself
go down this path?
A.M. The ILO had no such opportunity and did not dare. After all,
the ILO is a structure dominated by governments; the organizational formula,
conditionally, is 2 votes for governments, one for employers and one for
workers. And the ILO could operate in Uzbekistan only with the consent of
GoU. Would GoU like
it, if the guest caught host (and very
hospitable host) by the hand in organizing child
and forced labour? That is precisely why the ILO did not find “systematic use of child labor” in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan
in 2013, while in reality thousands of students under 18 worked on the fields. Did
not dare to find.
D.T. But how can
this be? After all, the materials of the ILO supervisory bodies (which the ILO
monitors should have been guided by) are full of direct evidence not only of
the forced labor of children and adults, but of the existence of the state
system of forced labor?
A.M. And not
only that, in the materials of the ILO supervisory bodies there are examples
that “social partners”, the Federation of Trade Unions of Uzbekistan (FTUU) and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Uzbekistan
(CCIU) which the ILO included in its monitoring system, have denied for decades the existence of child and forced
labor at the International Labor Conferences,
misleading the international community. And when the ILO HLM did not find systematic use of child labor in 2013, a
paradox occurred: in fact, the ILO HLM confirmed
that over the years, the ILO supervisory bodies were
wrong in accusing Uzbekistan of using child labor, and GoU with Uzbekistan’s social
partners who denied child labor were right. Following
that, since 2015 the ILO was failing to report also forced labor of adults on a massive scale. Gradually
mutual confidence of the ILO monitors and GoU grew from year to year. While at first the authorities of Uzbekistan had serious
suspicions that the ILO monitors would honestly tell about child labor,
so in the ILO 2013 Monitoring Methodology Guide each
ILO representative should be surrounded by
four representatives of Uzbekistan (apparently from each direction:
south, north, east and west), but in reality
ILO monitor was surrounded by FIVE local representatives (4
sides of the world + sky?). Later, despite the fact that systemic child labor in 2013 was not
found by the ILO, GoU still had fears and formula 1: 5 was preserved in the first ILO TPM in
2015, because the risk was high - millions of World Bank dollars were at stake.
But everything worked perfect, the ILO
monitors did not report anything wrong again. And after 2015 and 2016, when ILO experts did
not report massive forced labor on cotton again, GoU
finally got convinced in absolute loyalty of
the ILO team, and in 2017, ILO monitors were allowed NOT to find forced
labour already on their own, without accompanying
D.T. It turns
out that the ILO with its format was initially useless?
A.M. Not at
all. Monitoring is not an end in itself, but one of the means to achieve the
goal: the eradication of child and forced labor. And for this, the ILO has both
experience and tools: DWCP. But ILO both structurally and functionally is in no way good for field monitoring. And the ILO’s procedures and mandate,
described in its constitution, do not prescribe direct
monitoring in countries. And the work of the ILO supervisory bodies is based on
analyzing the information of institutional participants - governments,
employers and workers - as well as partner organizations, and not on sitting in
the bushes with a camera or winding thousands of kilometers across Uzbekistan.
I participated, for example, in several special missions of the ILO in Belarus:
there the ILO employees did not engage in independent monitoring, but acted
within the framework of their mandate - checked the information of the
government, employees and employers. And it was one of the most successful ILO
project in recent decades, when Belarus
Government was punished by suspending the EU
General System of Preferences for trade because
of violating the rights of Belarusian free trade
D.T. Now it is
clear about ideology and strategy, but are there any comments on
the technical side of the ILO methodology?
A.M. As you can
imagine, these things are interrelated. There are a lot of complaints about the
ILO monitoring technique. But before turning to the technology, I will say a
little more about the ideological limitations. For example, monitoring by civil society is not bound by procedural chains, and can
apply any effective method and call black - black and white - white. But the
ILO must follow its procedures. And one of them is a tripartite social dialogue
that the ILO cannot ignore. It is based on the
important principles of the ILO - this should be a dialogue of equal and independent partners: workers that
are represented by their independent body, and the
employers represented by their
own organization. And the governments do not have the
right even come close to establishment and operation of organizations of
workers and employers (as well as they are to each other, Conventions 87 and
98). In Uzbekistan FTUU over the past decade was led by a government
representative, then an employer representative; and the CCIU was established by decree of the President and ALWAYS was
headed by government representatives. What sort of "social dialogue" could take place in this
situation? When only government officials meet at at the table - one big and two smaller? This is a social monologue.
D.T. Yes, I
remember, during one of conference calls of Cotton Campaign with the ILO, when you presented these
arguments, one of the ILO staff, not finding
what to answer on the merits, said: "Let's see what ACTRAV will say to
that” (ACTRAV is an ILO division
A.M. And what
can ACTRAV say to this? Look at the text of Convention 98:
1. Workers' and employers'
organisations shall enjoy adequate protection against any acts of interference
by each other or each other's agents or members in their establishment,
functioning or administration.
2. In particular, acts
which are designed to promote the establishment of workers' organisations under
the domination of employers or employers' organisations, or to support workers'
organisations by financial or other means, with the object of placing such
organisations under the control of employers or employers' organisations, shall
be deemed to constitute acts of interference within the meaning of this
Here is the text of Convention 87:
1. Workers' and employers'
organisations shall have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules, to
elect their representatives in full freedom, to organise their administration
and activities and to formulate their programmes.
2. The public authorities
shall refrain from any interference which would restrict this right or impede
the lawful exercise thereof”
And how can ACTRAV justify with a view to above
the fact that FTUU
is now headed
by an employer? who was
elected at the Plenum held by the Deputy Prime
Minister, and the Prime Minister and the
President’s representative were sitting next to him? Only according to Orwell can
this, saying that everyone is equal, but there are those who are more equal ...
Or ACTRAV should send a clear message to the
world: you can sometimes ignore ILO conventions, because the ILO units do it
And by the way, some time ago in Kyrgyzstan, when the chairman of the Federation of
Trade Unions of Kyrgyzstan was dismissed on charges of corruption, and the
Kyrgyz government put its own man in his place
(albeit with a certain trade union past), and vice-premier of the
government of Kyrgyzstan only attended the “election”
of the new chairman of the FTUK, the International Confederation of Trade
Unions, the ITUC (an ILO partner organization) considered such actions
unacceptable, and suspended the membership of the FPKR in the ITUC even in
associated status. And in case of Uzbekistan, when the FTUU was directly headed by an employee of the Government
Office, Mrs Narbaeva, the ITUC for some reason considered it quite democratic
and accepted the FTUU in associate status in
2015. In a similar situation, in neighbouring countries ITUC made contrastingly
different decisions. Why? I suspect, not without the
influence of the ILO, for which it was important to somehow whitewash an
absolutely authoritarian FTUU that does not
represent interests of workers, because the
ILO could not do without FTUU and “social dialogue” in Uzbekistan.
And this example, by the way, shows that reckless
compromises and deviations from principles can in no way contribute to the
development of democracy. Do you think that the FTUU appreciated the advances that were actually made by the
adoption of this authoritarian organization into the international family of
democratic trade unions of the ITUC? Did FTUU started some internal
reforms? On the contrary - inspired by the unscrupulous
position and readiness to unlimited compromising of
international organizations, GoU together with
the labor relations department named FTUU, cynically
and openly demonstrated complete disregard for the basic ILO conventions, by
appointing to the FTUU leadership a director of the factory and member of the
Business Council. So, unfortunately, in modern Uzbekistan
there is no real social dialogue, and as the Oriental sages argued: no matter how much the word “sugar” is pronounced, it will not become sweet in the mouth ...
And this is not at all a harmless for the ILO
monitoring methodology, because the tripartite “social dialogue” is fully
integrated into the ILO monitoring system, both architecturally and
functionally. The Government of Uzbekistan, FTUU and CCIE are included in
the Coordination Council of the ILO monitoring and reporting, and their representatives
actually participated in monitoring.
And now answer me a question: how could monitoring
be effective if it
is based on a non-working mechanism?
But in case of the ILO monitoring in Uzbekistan the situation is even worse: the ILO was forced to connect to
its monitoring (declared independent and objective) those structures that for
decades were hiding and denying the mere
existence of child and forced labor, and have
tremendous experience in this exercise. What
can we expect from such monitoring? Only that it will not discover massive and systemic forced labor of children and
adults. And that is what happened.
D.T. Yes, but
with such inadequate monitoring
methodology did the ILO observers manage to see and
record examples of child labor and forced labor in their reports?
Though they camouflaged irrefutable facts of
forced labor at maximum both terminologically, renaming them in “risks of forced labor”,
and for forced workers they even invented a new term “reluctant worker”, which is not found in the ILO Conventions or documents,
and by scattering the discovered facts of
forced labor in various paragraphs of their reports, without any logic, so that the reader has to put a lot of
efforts into collecting a complete picture
from these different patches, but nevertheless they still found these facts.
So, does the ILO methodology work somehow?
clarifications to your question, from my point of view, are no less important
than the question itself, and I will return to this later. To your question: how despite the most
serious shortcomings of the ILO monitoring methodology, have the observers managed
to see examples of forced labor of children and adults? I my answer is: child
and forced labor were so MASSIVE that it was impossible to see ANYTHING ELSE.
Here is an analogy to clarify my thoughts: in the
midst of the Cold War, when the construction of domestic shelters from nuclear
bombing was popular in America, and we in Moscow had civil defense lessons at a school, it was all scary:
not to look at a nuclear explosion, to cover yourself with a sheet and to
crawl somewhere... But at the end there was an
encouraging conclusion: it is very difficult to start a nuclear war suddenly, since it would take several days to cover own
population from retaliation nuclear strike, and it is impossible to hide mass
mobilization of the population from the enemy intelligence. So, by analogy, those who were not in Uzbekistan during the
mass harvesting of cotton, let them try to
imagine compulsory mobilization to the fields of more than MILLION people! Such mobilization
is visible at every step, except for it, nothing
else is visible. And only the blind can not notice it, or the one who does not
want to see.
And now I will finish the “portrait” of the ILO
reports that you have drawn. Not only did
the ILO observers veiled their findings terminologically, and randomly screened them in different paragraphs of reports to confuse the
reader, here I agree with you, but on top of that they managed to ignore what they saw in the fields in the main conclusions . And instead of the promised
independent monitoring, they made conclusions independent of the monitoring findings!
D.T. I agree, I
also noticed that conclusions are in contrast with
the detected facts. But what for? And who benefits?
I do not
have an unequivocal answer to this question, but let's try to build logic
together. So who is the customer of the TPM report?
D.T. The World
A.M. True, and
who in this case determines the format of the TPM report?
D.T. It is most
logical to assume that the format is determined by the customer.
A.M. I agree.
In this case, explaining the objective irrationality of the report, where
conclusions do not correspond to the facts, I have the right to assume that
this is the customer who set a condition:
write what you want in the text of the report, but the main conclusions should not contain any child and forced labor,
because we will only refer to the main
conclusions. What, in fact, the World Bank has been doing successfully in
recent years. In any case, for example, being a bona fide customer, I would not
accept a report in which the conclusions do not correspond to the facts. And
the World Bank accepts, then it suits it.
D.T. It seems
logical. But this is a very shaky and vulnerable scheme in terms of public
opinion and reputational risks of the participants in such a scheme. After all,
there are other reports about cotton harvesting in the same year on the same
fields, for example, the UGF annual
A.M. Correct: it is
shaky and vulnerable, and that is why it requires political support at the
highest level and necessarily in the international arena. And, yes - the annual
reports of the UGF (I think they are read carefully
both in the ILO and in the World Bank), they stick as
nails in their chairs; later I’ll explain
political support at the highest level in the international arena, do you mean
the unexpected performance of President of Uzbekistan Mirziyoyev last year at
the UN General Assembly in New York? It also seemed unusual to me that he chose
this particular rostrum to send students from Uzbekistan to the cotton fields
far away ...
Why do you think he did that? And why, despite
the earlier decisions of GoU, were the
students still sent to pick cotton?
A.M. I draw you attention
to couple details. First, Mirziyoyev stressed two things: sending students home
from the fields, and lush compliments to the ILO. Second: his unexpected speech
followed after a meeting with the WB president on the day before.
D.T. How do you
A.M. I can only
assume that Mirziyoyev at a meeting with the World
Bank was given a certain condition, tough enough: we will not be able to
continue funding projects in Uzbekistan and / or talk about new financing as
long as there are reputational risks, since independent monitors present year after year undeniable evidence of state
participation in the organization of forced labor. And second, we, like you,
are counting on the results of the ILO monitoring, but we cannot ignore the
ILO’s reputational risks, which, year after year, has to pretend that GoU does not force people to
collect cotton. The ILO needs public international
Of course, this is only my conjecture, since I
was not at that meeting, but some logical moves with high probability can be
read from a distance. You should agree that the
president, who wants to eradicate forced labor in his country, is unlikely to
go to New York to announce his intentions, it is more logical to speak on this
topic at a meeting of his own parliament. And declaration from the UN GA
stand are aimed to make an impression on the
international community. And at the same time, no one is praised randomly from
the UN General Assembly rostrum — it means there was a need and an order to
praise the ILO precisely in New York at the GA (and not in Geneva, for example,
where the ILO headquarters are located). So I agree with you that the scheme of
relations between the WB and the ILO under the auspices of TPM is very vulnerable in
terms of reputational risks.
I will say more, the WB has contracted the ILO to
with a flagrant violation of its own rules. In its
explanation of the TPM procedure, the
Department of Social Development of the World Bank writes in very
monitoring (TPM) is defined as monitoring by parties that are external to the
project or program’s direct beneficiary chain or management structure to assess
whether intended outputs, outcomes, and impacts have been achieved by the
project. TPM is mainly used to provide an independent perspective on project or
government performance.” (see in “HOW-TO
NOTES. Participatory and Third Party
Monitoring in World Bank–Financed Projects: What Can Non-state Actors Do?”)
The beneficiary of the WB projects in Uzbekistan
GoU. And it is for GoU and its structures that the WB rules do
not allow to participate in the TPM, that is, to make judgement on themselves. And the ILO
structurally (!) includes the government, and
therefore does not constitute an “external entity” in relation to GoU. The Ministry of Labor (GoU) participated in monitoring, and the Coordination
Monitoring Council (that is, the monitoring censorship body of the GoU
over the ILO monitoring) was headed by the Vice Prime
Minister. Direct and obvious conflict of interest.
straightforward and clearly marked conflict of interests. But how is this possible in international organizations?
And for what?
A.M. Why? - it
is more or less clear. The WB are
not fools, they knew very well (and know it now) that child labor and forced
labor were massively used in Uzbekistan. And there was a fear that civil
society monitors or professional social auditors would reveal this, and the WB
would have trouble with projects that had just been launched in Uzbekistan. And
the ILO most likely promised that it would not find either child or forced
labor, and if it could not conceal it, it
would not write about them in the main
D.T. But this looks like a plot?
A.M. Very much. And why a clear conflict of interest is allowed in the UN
structures? In business it would be more
difficult (at least with impunity), because it contradicts to the written rules
and principles of corporate governance, the implementation of which is controlled,
including mandatory external audit (a sort of monitoring
by a third party). And when one of the world's largest audit corporations, Arthur Andersen from the “Big
Three”, decided to cheat on the Enron audit, and was
caught by the hand, then after six months it ceased to exist. And just recently
the American regulator kicked out Elon Musk from the leadership
of his own Tesla company for violating the principles of corporate governance ...
Even global trade union federations are undergoing an external audit procedure.
And the WB and ILO, the UN family structures, unfortunately, have no external
audit. So they can allow a conflict of interests in order to exclude civil
society from monitoring the violation of the rights of citizens, and replace it
with monitoring of one international bureaucrat in favour of the other. Who will judge?
D.T. Maybe it is important to
introduce the practice of external audit for the UN structures as well? Maybe it will improve their work? After all, now the work
of the UN structures is increasingly criticized.
A.M. I will
answer with a joke: I think that the famous businessman Donald Trump (he is
also the President of the United States) will support your point of view.
D.T. We wanted
to go down a little from the strategic shortcomings of the ILO monitoring
methodology, which you described in detail, to the technology itself, for
example, the interviewing methodology.
A. M. To begin
interviewing as the main tool for monitoring child
and forced labor, and with the mandatory participation of representatives of
structures fully controlled by GoU, is also a strategic mistake. Frightened
people, especially children, of course, will not say
anything to foreigners in the presence of the authorities. As for the interview
methodology itself, the recently published research by professor Christian Laslet (link to the report in Russian
has literally “destryed” technique, and I do
not need to repeat it here. I will only add that from the point of view of the
experience of social audit accumulated by the international community over the
past decades of working in an unfavorable environment, the methodology of the
ILO interviews is backward, inefficient, formalized and therefore not reliable
You know very well, Dmitry, that many civil
society monitors, in particular UGF monitors,
do not disclose their names and participation in the monitoring of child and
forced labor in Uzbekistan, rightly fearing persecution by the authorities. So,
some of them experienced the effectiveness of the ILO interviewing process on
themselves, and then explained it in detail:
how they were brainwashed by the authorities
before the interview, how during an interview
in the presence of the authorities and trade union officers, they had to lie and deny the forced nature of their work fearing
reprisals immediately after ILO observers leave. Who needs all this? And for what? That is
D.T. You called
the ILO interviewing methodology ineffective and formalized. I understand you
are comparing it with some examples of an effective interviewing technique?
Could you make some enlargement on that?
A.M. Sure. As I
said earlier, over the past decades, the conviction that business must be
socially responsible grows in the public consciousness. You can hardly find now in the world any large
company that could afford not to pay attention to CSR. Labor standards, by the
way, usually based on ILO Conventions, and human rights at work are the most important indicators of CSR business
commitments. Many international NGO and private consulting companies are focusing on the implementation of social justice
principles, and tracking how business follows the principles of CSR in
reality, and not just on paper, this is so-called compliance monitoring. Very often,
compliance auditors have to work in
uncomfortable atmosphere and situations where companies seek to hide perverted
disgraces, intimidate workers, brainwash them before the arrival of monitors, and so on, in short, do everything like in
Uzbekistan. International compliance monitoring has
gained good experience in identifying human
rights violations at workplaces, especially when working in an unfavorable
environment. Including experience of the
interviewing. Although I must say here, that I
myself, for example, as a social auditor, will use interviews likely as a last resort, mainly to confirm
violations identified earlier. And the interviews will have to occupy
about 15% of the time and effort of an experienced
monitor, while the focus will be on the
so-called desktop study, the study of the object of monitoring basing on
external and internal information.
So the ILO colorful poster “Down
with child labor and forced labor!” hanging on
the wall of the Hokimiyat or Indorama Kokand Textiles office will not make a
big impression on me. In the first case, I will ask to show the internal
instructions of the hokimiyat on practical measures to counter forced labor,
and reports on the implementation of these measures over the past couple of
years. And in the second case, I will ask to show the documents - the corporate
“Indorama Policy on Counteracting Forced Labor” and contracts with raw cotton
suppliers, where suppliers have promised in writing to comply with the principles of this “Policy” ... No signs
of serious desktop studies are reflected in
the reports of the ILO HLM and TPM, and most likely they were never done.
And now about the the effective technology
of interviewing. I will mention briefly
4 basic principles of effective interviewing.
for interviews are chosen by the monitor, and the interviews take place tet-a-tet, without the presence of any local staff.
experienced monitor will try, as far as possible, to expand and diversify the
range of parameters and indicators of dishonest practices that he should
identify. If the authorities or managers give preliminary instructions to employees
on how to behave and how to answer questions, then these tricks will work only
if the number of parameters is limited, otherwise people will not retain a
large amount of information in memory. Diversification helps to circumvent the
tricks and reveal the truth. (In its monitoring, the ILO did the opposite; it
reduced the number of parameters as much as possible; in 2013, only C 182 and in TPM only C 182 and C105,
although C 29, 47, 100, 103, 111,122, 138 have relation to child and forced labour.)
experienced monitor tries to minimize direct questions about violations, since
these questions can alert the interviewee, especially if they are children,
because it was about these direct questions that the authorities might have
warned. A frightened interviewee is likely to tell a lie or keep silent. An
experienced interviewer, who knows his subject in detail, operates with
indirect questions that are not alarming, or even wrong statements, which the interviewee gladly refutes, thereby
confirming the suspicions of the monitor.
The fourth rule is
closely related to the second and third: never conduct interviews with printed
questionnaires in your hands, because this immediately gives the impression of interrogation to the already frightened workers.
The ILO monitors, judging by the texts of their
reports, did EVERYTHING contrary, against the rules of effective interviewing.
D.T. And what
opinion do you have about the methodology for identifying points for monitoring by randomly selecting coordinates and
then transmitting these coordinates to team
the ILO reports this is presented as the latest science achievement?
A.M. To be
honest, I could not read it without a smile. Perhaps this is something
suitable, for example, for the Paris-Dakar rally. Or it looks more as an attempt to objectively estimate population of animal
species in African savannas or in the open spaces of the tundra in the era
before the advent of satellite images and remote sensing. In my student years, forty years ago, I used a similar
technique of random determination of
monitoring coordinates when I wrote a diploma on choosing the optimal place for
the tundra ecosystems reserve in the Magadan region,
where I tried to get a certain objective figure of
animal and bird population using the grid
of randomly selected coordinates. For those purposes, in those days this technique was suitable. But for modern monitoring of
child and forced labor, it looks like a joke.
So let's compare the approaches of the ILO and UGF. After all, force people
to pick cotton is a long-term practice.
And in many cases, gathering places for cotton pickers are not changed from
year to year. In any case, the time and place of gathering cannot be concealed
from the people (otherwise no one will arrive
there on time), and accordingly, they are always known to civil society
monitors, who conduct their observations there. Not only this, the UGF monitors tried to transmit this information to the ILO.
Just imagine what opportunities the ILO could have by coming directly to the
assembly point, and check there, for example, the age of the students being
sent to pick cotton, whether they have
contracts, find out whether they themselves are going in good faith, or they
are forced by authorities who command the
shipment? Did cotton pickers have medical check? Were any safety instructions given to them? How representatives of educational institutions explain the
fact that instead of studying, students will be engaged in hazardous work (both
are regulated by the ILO Conventions and the laws of Uzbekistan); and a lot of
things could have been found out if the ILO monitors would as they promised conduct honest “independent monitoring” and arrive to such
places unexpectedly for the authorities. And after taking
interview and checking papers, they could just
go with that convoy of buses (or even one bus)
to the final destination (checking at the same time how far students are taken
away from home - this is also regulated by the ILO Conventions) and see what
conditions people will live in? Are the bedrooms normal? how many people? Are
there separate bedrooms for men and women? Is there a canteen, toilets, is
there a first-aid post? Can you imagine how effective such monitoring could
have been? And on many parameters? But instead of effective, concrete, targeted,
and focused monitoring at dozens of gathering points,
the ILO’s monitors preferred to rush somewhere to a randomly defined coordinates
(perhaps just to avoid a random running into the gathering point),
and then present the number of kilometers wound on wheels. as an indicator of
monitoring effectiveness. Ridiculous.
D.T. Rather sad.
The last question on the method. The Monitoring Guide for the ILO HLM in 2013 (the same methodology was used for TPM according to the ILO reports)
states that the methodology is adapted to the conditions of Uzbekistan and is
based on international experience. Is it so?
A.M. From what
has been said about the ILO monitoring methodology,
I can only draw one conclusion: adaptation to
the conditions of Uzbekistan consisted only of minimizing a possibility to detect
violations and of minimizing the number and
scale of violation if some were observed.
Even the national indicators of forced labor for
Uzbekistan were not developed, as required by ALL instructions and ILO
guidelines on monitoring child and forced labor.
As for international experience, in the ILO
methodology it is not present in any way. I already said enough about
compliance monitoring. We are dealing here with two things: agriculture and unfavorable environment of an authoritarian state. FAO (Food and
Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) has experience in monitoring
child and forced labour in agriculture; while the OSCE has experience of monitoring
in an aggressive authoritarian environments. The
ILO monitoring methodology for Uzbekistan does not take into account either
experience of FAO or the OSCE.
D.T. Now in
Uzbekistan, cotton is being harvested. According to some reports, this year the
ILO declined the services of the monitors from FTUU replacing them (or, perhaps, adding) with independent
monitors from civil society. Can we expect a fundamental increase in the
effectiveness of the monitoring of the ILO 2018?
A.M. I am
skeptical about this for three reasons.
First and foremost. I use the metaphor of the
fishing net to explain my skepticism. The ILO methodology of monitoring is similar to the fishing net,
where the size of the cells is intentionally made
larger than the size of the fish that they are going to catch with this net.
Therefore, it does not matter who will throw this net, even a very experienced
fisherman - anyway, he or she or they will catch nothing with this net.
Second. You personally participated
for many years in monitoring child and forced labor in Uzbekistan at risk for
yourself (and even suffered for it), and you certainly know all the experienced
monitors of child and forced labor in this country, especially since there are
not so many of them. Also you know that such
monitoring, apart from courage, also requires serious substantive training,
including practical skills, it takes time … Are any of the experienced human rights activists known to you, who
specialized in child labor and forced labor in Uzbekistan, involved in the
current ILO monitoring?
D.T. As far as
I know, non. But someone could have been specially trained... Recently, in Tashkent, the ILO held a special workshop
for monitors from
civil society, and some UGF monitors who worked with me in the past and
who together with me signed a complaint against the International Finance
Corporation for financial assistance to Indorama Kokand Textiles and HamkorBank
for making a profit from the use of child and forced labor took part in this
A.M. I saw the
program of this workshop, just 1.5 days, including
political brainwashing from Deputy Premier
Narbayeva, known as a long term true defender of president Karimov
regime against accusation in organizing child
and forced labour. A question for you: is it possible in 1.5 days to prepare a human rights
activist, but without experience in labor
relations and particularly in child and forced
labor topics, for high-quality field monitors of
not. This should be a multi-day course or several workshops, in fact, as it was in UGF.
And this should not be only training in regulations and standards, but also
modeling situations, developing indicators, setting goals, developing roles ...
A.M. Nice to
hear. I am proud that I participated in this work together with you and other
colleagues. So, this is the first brick. Second: from those who participated in
monitoring and participated in the ILO seminar, who
participates in the current ILO monitoring?
to my information - nobody. And this is strange ...
A.M. This is
strange, Dima, only if your goal is to increase the effectiveness of
monitoring. And if your goal is not to find the massive use of forced labor,
then this is very logical. After all, experienced monitors may suddenly find something undesirable. Can you imagine
what would happen if these fearless monitors
of child labor who had not been frightened during
the days of President Karimov, will find some wrongdoing? They may
refuse to ignore violations for the sake of a bright
future? Why take these?
D.T. But why
then invite them to a workshop? And why did they agree
to this? Waste of money...
A.M. Human being is weak, Dima. And that's normal. After so many years of persecution and a hopeless future,
the winds of hope and freedom suddenly blew. And they really want to be part of this new. Shift from the category of outcast to the squad officially
recognized, to whom people listen, whose past
merits are respected. Who dares to condemn? I have seen it many times.
Including also in the mirror ...
As for money ... Sometimes money is paid for
non-participation ... Or for participation in a secondary events... I would not
be surprised to learn about it.
But for now, to continue our discussion, I want
to fix my conclusion:
In order to improve the
quality of monitoring, you need to attract qualified and experienced.
And in order to be secured
from unwanted findings during monitoring it is better to attract those who are not very experienced,
but obedient and loyal. Just such a general conclusion. Without personalities.
“without personalities” I agree. But after all, the ILO has done well all these
years without civil society, being satisfied by cooperation with “non-governmental” organizations created
by the government, such as the Farmers' Union, the Youth Union, the Women's
Committee, the Nuroniy Foundation, etc., why now
ILO needs monitors from civil society?
A.M. Do you
remember some time ago I compared the annual reports of the UGF with the nails in the ILO and WB chairs? These reports
were the only alternative information to the ILO monitoring and spoiled the
whole matter of the eradication child and forced labor on
paper. And it would be naive to believe that the ILO would tolerate that
for long. After all, if the ILO was genuinely
interested in improving the quality of its monitoring, why not suggest the UGF
to join forces? However, such an offer did not
follow. Instead, the ILO decided to create its own civil society
competitor to UGF, more precisely, a controlled
competitor from human rights defenders who are
not particularly experienced in monitoring forced labor, but are
interested in remuneration, and include them in their
monitoring contour. And in the event of a serious discrepancy in the monitoring
results of 2018 between the ILO and the UGF, one
can say something like: “With all due respect to the UGF, they are not the only ones who represent the civil
society of Uzbekistan, there are other groups, and they have a different
opinion ... ". Or at the extreme, one can even say: “Yes, the UGF is a
bunch of political emigrants angry for their past offenses, who have long been separated from the realities
of Uzbekistan, where people are building now a bright democratic future ...”.
Umida Niyazova told me that test balloons on this topic had already been
D.T. Don't you
think, Andre, that in your reasoning you sometimes get too carried away with
something like “conspiracy theory”?
A.M. It is
possible, Dima. But, conspiracy theory begins to dominate when the thread of
reasoning breaks and you need to grab hold of something in order not to fall
into the abyss. I still hold the thread of logic. And then, we have a public
discussion with you, and therefore everyone who wants meaningfully, with
arguments (I adore qualitative arguments) to object - he is welcome. I feel very comfortable in public discussions.
And besides, I will sincerely be happy if someone
proves to me that all my suspicions and conclusions are in no way justified,
that the ILO is right in everything and forced labor in Uzbekistan is over. So
there is no risk.
But in order to shake your suspicion of bias, I
will give at least one example, although I didn’t initially want to go into
Here is a quote from the ILO Report on TPM 2017, in Section 5.5.1 on page 42 it is written:
“One case of 12 pickers aged 10-14 years
old was identified by the monitoring team in Beruniy district. The incident was
not a result of systemic recruitment and there was no evidence of coercion. The
farmer was not aware of their presence in his field. The underage pickers were
withdrawn from the field immediately. The Khokim and others in the community
took the situation very seriously and rectified it without delay. Related
information sessions for parents, teachers and farmers were organized the
following day. The prosecutor’s office, the education department and mahalla
were also involved to ensure appropriate action was taken to avoid recurrence”
And in the footnote 7 on the same page is written:
“ The mahalla leader of the locality,
the representative of the District Education department and some of the
children’s parents came to the school in about one hour. No one seemed to be
aware of children’s picking cotton. On the second day, the monitoring team
visited the school again, met with the management and staff of the school to
discuss about the incident, possible causes behind and ways to prevent such
cases in the future. The meeting was attended by the district prosecutor’s
office, education department and mahalla. As communicated by the district
hokim, the incident was an isolated case and corrective measures were taken.”
Just imagine the situation: the ILO monitors at
the representative point of randomly chosen coordinates find 12 children picking cotton. An hour later, the Mahalla chairman, a
representative of the regional education authority, and kids parents rush
headlong. And it turns out that no one knew that children were picking cotton.
That is, the teacher comes in the morning to the class, sees that approximately
half of the class is absent, but he
does not care. It turns out that the children escaped
from their lessons, climbed over the farm fence, found empty bags somewhere and
suddenly began to pick cotton for no reason at all. And the farmer did not know
anything about it, because farmers in Uzbekistan usually sleep during the day,
do not work on the field, and have no idea what is happening there in their
fields and who harvests their crops without them. Tell me, Dima, a normal person
with an open mind and some knowledge of the realities of Uzbekistan (and even
without them) can believe in this “fairy tale about the white bull”? But the
ILO has not only believed, but also tries to convince us, the readers of its
And is trying very
intensively. Pay attention to how the text is constructed, immediately after
the first phrase, before just pure facts are described, the ILO Report author is already in a hurry with his
ideological interpretation: “This incident was not the
result of systematic hiring. There were no signs of coercion. The farmer was
not aware of the presence of these collectors on the field”.
Immediately erase any option that someone could interpret it
as example of child labour. And what about the phrase
"Signs of coercion were absent." What
signs of coercion should have been convincing for the ILO monitors in this
case? Bruises? bitten asses? the rods in a bucket of water, standing at the edge of the
And note, here again the same tried and tested
method of perplexing information that the ILO constantly uses in its monitoring
reports: a small text on the same event is divided into two parts, one part in
the report’s “body” and the other, small print, on the same page, but in a
footnote. You, as a professional journalist, and a specialist in organizing and submitting information,
explain to me why it was necessary to split a small single information block
into two parts in such a way ?!
A.M. It seems
that only to
repeat the mantra: “... this incident was an isolated case
and corrective measures were taken.” in the second piece again, I don’t see any other reasonable explanation.
But I remember another
episode described in the ILO High-Level Mission Report on Child Labor
Monitoring in 2013, when human rights activists reported to the ILO Mission
about several deaths during cotton picking.
The ILO mission, which was already in Uzbekistan and had all opportunities to check
these episodes, nevertheless was satisfied with the
explanations of the authorities and rubber stamped their authenticity with its
provided indicated that they were not related to death cotton."
And here the episode itself:
“Case 2. On
the 15th September ... a 6-year-old child died
of suffocation when he was sleeping in a trailer with cotton”
So what's wrong with that? This is
a recognised national Uzbek tradition: children
usually sleep not in beds, but in trailers with cotton. What was there to
investigate in particular from the point of view of the ILO High Level Mission?
Not the slightest hint of child labor in cotton
The saddest thing is that this episode was
investigated by the Human Rights Watch,
and there was a special message on this topic that this boy, Amirbek Rakhmatov,
was mobilized by the authorities to pick cotton. But it was more important for
the ILO to maintain good relations with the government of Uzbekistan than to
ask uncomfortable questions and care about life of 6 year old boy..
And you say, "conspiracy theory" ...
D.T. Tell me,
Andre, do you scrutinize all ILO reports and materials like this?
A.M. Sure. I have a bad character in this sense, I believe that the devil is in the details.
continue about the ILO. In fact, ILO staff members are actually crediting
themselves elimination of child labor in the cotton
sector of Uzbekistan. Indeed, pupils and junior students stopped being sent cotton when the ILO
appeared in Uzbekistan. This point of view is especially actively promoted in
its tweets by the ILO representative in Uzbekistan Jonas Astrup.
A.M. Well, we
will not analyze the tweets of Jonas here due to the lack of serious content,
in style they remind me of the stream of consciousness, tinted with a desire to
glorify the achievements of the government of Uzbekistan, even if they do not
I will answer your main question as follows:
objectively, the ILO has nothing to do with the elimination of child labor in
Let's start with the main thing. For about 10
years, the ILO supervisory bodies literally bombarded the GoU with direct inquiries on child labor, including reminders
of the need for Uzbekistan to comply with the statutory obligations that each ILO member organization should periodically
inform the ILO supervisory bodies about compliance with the fundamental and
ratified ILO Conventions. GoU simply ignored
all these requests and actually squeezed out of the country an ILO program of
eradication of child labor IPEC, and even the formal ILO presence in
Uzbekistan was interrupted. The Karimov government considered the ILO to be something
like a paper tiger. These facts suggest that the ILO’s mechanisms and tools
have proved powerless to combat child and forced labor in Uzbekistan. Point.
The ILO returned to Uzbekistan under
international pressure, including the Cotton Campaign, which was able to
convince many international brands to boycott Uzbek cotton. The exploiters of
child labor were not afraid of the “paper tiger”, but of losses in their
(And, I will note in brackets, that the UGF monitoring reports were the basis for the activity of the CC, the credibility of which the ILO constantly undermines,
not finding either child or forced labor in Uzbekistan. Instead of gratitude).
Second argument. In the UGF monitoring report for 2013 one can read that GoU under international pressure, stopped sending secondary
school students to cotton as early as 2012, that is, a year before the ILO
monitoring mission arrived to the country.
And finally, the third. In an ILO HLM report on monitoring child labor in 2013, it is written in
the main conclusions that no systemic child labor was found. How could the ILO
eradicate something which in its opinion did not exist?
D.T. We will
soon have to complete our interesting discussion. I still have an important
the methodology for monitoring ILO. The last report
of 2017 has Annex 7, which describes the “Temporary
procedure for the organization of non-governmental cotton command units to
mobilize unemployed people to cotton picking and motivate them in order to
ensure the timely cotton harvesting in 2017”.
Frankly, I was struck by this Temporary procedure because it is like two drops water
similar, even in small details - in the participants, their positions and functions
- to the state system of organization of forced labor, which we built at our workshops, and which Uzbekistan has been hiding all this time. And now
GoU decided to make it public, and also share it with
the ILO, and the ILO decided to include it in its report, describing this mechanism as a great progress. WHAT
A.M. Yes, right
here, I am afraid, you have found the most painful point of the entire ILO
POLICY in Uzbekistan. I was also struck by these two things: why did the
authorities of Uzbekistan suddenly decided to publish the actually previously
concealed scheme of forced labor, and why the ILO put this scheme in its report
with the heading “great progress”.
Let's remind the readers of our dialogue the main
points of the “Temporary Procedure ”
from Appendix 7 of the ILO MTS Report (pages 86 - 88):
“This temporary procedure determines the
organization of non-governmental cotton command units to mobilize unemployed
people to cotton picking and motivate them in order to ensure the timely cotton
harvesting in 2017...
Regional and district NGCUs will be
organized under the leadership of Deputies Khokims on women's affairs of
provinces and districts to mobilize unemployed people to cotton harvesting...
2. Regional NGCU include in accordance with Annex 1: - chairmen of regional
branches of the Nuroniy Foundation, Mahalla NonGovernmental Charity Fund,
regional branch of the Youth Union, Trade Union, - Responsible officer from the
regional department of internal affairs, - chairmen of the regional employment
office, regional post office, Imam Khatib of the region.
The Deputy Regional Khokim – Chair of
the Regional Women Committee Branch – leads the regional NGCU and is ex-officio
the Deputy Chair of the Regional Cotton NGCU”.
From this paragraph it becomes clear that the NGCUs are organized by government agencies, with government
agencies and headed by government officers,
although they are called “non government”.
This is already funny.
Further, we see that the NGCU includes representatives of all “public” associations that
previously participated in the forced mobilization of people to pick cotton or
were created by the authorities specifically for such mobilization (Nuroniy
Foundation, Mahalla Foundation, Union of Youth, trade unions, women's
committees) . And in order for them to act more decisively, the regional
departments of internal affairs (the police) were appointed to help them. A
sufficiently detailed description of the REGIONAL mechanism of the state system
of forced labor.
Next unfolding of “non governmentness” is at the district
“4. According to Annex 2, two groups of
active members are formed in every mahalla that consist of 10-15 volunteers as
part of the District NGCU to visit every house and make the list of cotton
pickers. The active members of mahalla include the chairmen of the assemblies
of citizens, their secretaries, religious advisers, public order defenders,
head of the village’s medical office, site inspectors, imam khatibs…”
Just think, GoU that issued this “Temporary proceducre ” simply orders public organizations, heads of rural
medical centers and even clergy to participate in the formation of lists of
cotton pickers. That is, doctors, instead of treating, and imams and muezzins,
instead of engaging in spiritual activities, should be involved in drawing up
lists of cotton pickers. Doctors, clergy and NGO are subjected to forced labor. Amazing: the
norm of forced labor is openly spelled out in
the government document of 2017, the effect of which extends also to the World
Bank projects, while the ILO and the World
Bank continue to assert that there is no forced labor.
What a powerful state vertical of coercion is
revealed in this document!
(This is also ridiculous: forced labor in Uzbekistan
is so widespread and its legitimacy is so deeply rooted in the minds of the
authorities that they do not even understand what can be written publicly and
what is not. But
could it be the ILO officers do not see it or do not
understand ? Or see, but close their eyes?)
Let us see how this state machine
of forced labour acts. Here is the following quote from this unique document:
“13. The District NGCU obtains
information on the number of pickers that are unemployed and involved in daily
cotton picking in the district, the volume of cotton picked by them and the
average volume of cotton picked by person from the Group of volunteers and team
leaders and provides it to the District Pakhta-shtab by 8 pm on a daily
16. The Groups of volunteers visit every
house in the assigned territory, converse with ablebodied citizens in each
household and advocate for the importance of cotton harvest, explain that
cotton picking is an opportunity to improve livelihood of the household, and
that participation in cotton harvest is the duty of each citizen. 17. The Group
will mobilize at least 50-60 percent of able-bodies citizens of the territory
to cotton harvest, forms teams of pickers and participate in electing their
experienced respected team leader, also makes arrangements for daily
participation of pickers...
17. The Group will mobilize at least
50-60 percent of able-bodies citizens of the territory to cotton harvest, forms
teams of pickers and participate in electing their experienced respected team
leader, also makes arrangements for daily participation of pickers....
19. The members of the Group of
volunteers will transfer the pickers they are in charge of (20-30 unemployed
people) to the team leaders by 7 am daily, checking the name of each picker.
Page 75 of 79 The members of the Group of volunteers after 7 am will go to the
house of pickers that did not show, check the reasons, ensure their
participation in the harvest. Also, every day from 8 am till noon and from 2 pm
till 4 pm they will visit houses in the mahalla.”
Just imagine, instead of using information about unemployed
from state agencies, and widely declare via mass media that those unemployed or
anybody willing to pick cotton for money, except children, students, elder,
disabled or ill and other categories whom the LAW denies access to hard work,
are welcome to voluntarily come to our state-run recruiting agencies with
documents, sign a contract, and work, - GoU has created a huge multilevel
system, involving police, when “activists” literally search homes looking for
those who stay at home during working hours, and then convince them using
different arguments, including religion, that picking cotton is their civil
duty! And if somebody would not show up at the gathering points, then activists
would come to your home once again, I presume with a new set of more convincing
arguments, and would make such an offer that you would not be able to reject.
This is a complete picture of how GoU
organises system of forced
labor, based on medieval rules and
principles instead of the RULE of LAW and ILO international labour standards.
This system is operating today in Uzbekistan with the
blessing of the ILO, including areas of the World Bank projects. System of quotas of compulsory mobilization of cotton pickers is very well in place: ".. At
least 50-60% of citizens from the working-age population attract."
There is nothing to add.
D.T. Very impressive. But my questions have not been answered yet: why did the
authorities do this and why did the ILO publish it in its TPM Report for 2017?
A.M. Well, it's
pretty simple. After all, no basic reason for the existence of forced labor on
cotton in Uzbekistan was eliminated: farmers are still forced to grow cotton,
cotton growing quotas have not been abandoned, and
regional authorities are still responsible for the implementation (or
non-fulfillment) of the plan; cotton purchasing prices still take farmers by the throat and do not allow them to organize cotton
picking and hire people for good money; cotton
harvesters did not appear in the fields on a sizeable scale; GoU has not
organized proper public works with attractive payments even for the unemployed
(that is why “activists” search homes) - so how can cotton be harvested? Only in the usual old way - the coercion system, though a
little repainted and with an ILO rubber stamp (otherwise,
why did the ILO put this “Temporary Order” in
its TPM Report for the World Bank with a
positive characteristic? This is like an official approval, in English
And again here: the reason is GREED.
questions about why GoU needs this system,
but why does the ILO looks at it positively?
A.M. It looks
like the ILO policy has brought it to a dead end.
Look: the ILO came to Uzbekistan in 2013, and already
in 2014 it joyfully and loudly reported a successes
in eliminating child labor hinting that it was the ILO achievement (now
we know it is not). But since
then - no more progress which could really and
objectively be demonstrated and recognized by the international community.
(Otherwise, it would have already been done).
Until today the only recognized progress is in
child labor. Though the ILO in its TPM year after year is not finding massive forced
labour, and is reporting steady progress, number of kilometers run by monitor
cars steadily grow (together with fuel bills I presume), number of interviews also steadily grow, in
2017 added by telephone interviews, DWCP silently continues for the 4th year,
awareness raising workshop soon will cover all government employees, at least
it looks like; but even Jonas could not boast more or less sizeable progress in
elimination of forced labour of adults. Posters against forced labour reported
as achievement in 2015 are still in place. As well as forced labour.
International community and donors could soon run out of
patience and begin asking uncomfortable questions.
We are already near the end
of 2018, 5 years
without significant progress. Even after two years of the Uzbekistan
democratic “perestroika” declared by President Mirziyoyev. Obviously time is
running against the ILO policy in Uzbekistan and something must be done.
D.T. And can
the ILO really do something?
A.M. I think it
will be very difficult. From the very beginning the ILO has chosen unlimited compromise as an
instrument to cling to Uzbekistan at any cost.
GoU has become accustomed to this position and takes
it for granted; and in such a situation, any change in behavior will be
perceived very painfully. And technically it
is difficult to do something as well, again, because of the ILO's policies and
methodology of monitoring during HLM and later in TPM; and also because of the
initial design of Decent Work Country Program. For
any qualified observer it is obvious that forced labor in Uzbekistan does not
land from the moon with a parachute, but is organized by GoU, and will continue until this system operates. But since
the ILO never (except for the documents of its supervisory bodies), recognized,
either in monitoring or in the DWCP the existence of
this system, it cannot dismantle it. How can you dismantle something
which does not exist in your opinion?
On the other side the ILO cannot leave
its projects in Uzbekistan without real
progress recognized by the international community -
it will be a complete fiasco: turning from a hypothetical “paper tiger” into a
real one, with all the consequences for the further ILO mission in the world …
D.T. And what
should we expect in this situation?
A.M. Well, the
possibilities are limited here, so it’s not very difficult to calculate them.
Why despite the non-recognition by the ILO of systemic and mass forced labor in its in
TPM 2015-2017 reports, does the international
community continue talking about the existence
of forced labor on cotton in Uzbekistan? Because there is persuasive
information from alternative sources that cannot be dismissed just like that
(Cotton Campaign, ILRF, IUF, HRW, PFM). It is easy to establish that the
system-forming source of this alternative information is UGF. So, first of all, one should try to somehow neutralize, or at least weaken, the authority
of UGF monitoring. Above, we have already
talked about possible moves in this direction: to organize another
“alternative” monitoring by not very experienced, but absolutely loyal civil society activists,
and demonstrate it at public events (“round tables”) with the participation of
experienced monitors. For money. It is quite
However, dismantling state system
of organizing forced labor is more difficult. Here one can act according to a
well-known joke: "if one cannot defeat the mafia,
then one should become its ruler”. That is, if the state system of organizing
forced labor in Uzbekistan cannot be dismantled, then it must be repainted into
a project of voluntary involvement of the unemployed in picking cotton, and
legitimize it as such. It seems to me
that GoU is now engaged in precisely this with the help of the ILO. And that was exactly
the reason of including description of this repainted
system in the ILO TPM report 2017.
D.T. And what
will this scenario look like in 2018?
A.M. I suppose that
at the end of cotton
harvesting, GoU and the ILO will hold several public events, where the ILO monitors
together with monitors from civil society who participated in the ILO monitoring (as well as those who did not participate, but
might be supportive for a number of reasons) on
which they will report that the new system (“Temporary Order”) worked
perfectly, and forced labor on cotton in Uzbekistan is over. To convince
home and, what is more important, international public,
there should be several events, and necessarily with the international
component, including ambassadors, the WB, possibly the ITUC and the
International Organization of Employers. Most likely, the Cotton Campaign and
HRW will also be invited, because the risk of their presence will be small: if
the UGF monitors show some wrongdoing, it will be neutralized right on the spot by the opinion
of “independent” monitors from civil society. And if
traditional mechanisms of state system of
forced labour would be demonstrated by the UGF monitors as still operating,
then they might be described as elements of the new
system of engaging poor volunteers and the unemployed in public works
with the ILO rubber stamp on it.
At the end of the year, the next (and possibly
the last) ILO TPM report will be released, where the new system of forced labor
repainted into the state program of public works will no longer be in a shy Annex # 7, like last year, but will become the center of the entire
report with the final conclusion: forced labor
in Uzbekistan is over! Hurray ! All
involved actors will be winners.
But for people of Uzbekistan.
And when the next UGF report will be released (usually it comes out later than
the ILO report), then no one will care about it…
D.T. And you
completely exclude any positive effect of this “repainted” system of forced
A.M. Not at all, however with caution.
positive changes are obvious: children were no
longer forced to the fields, students were
removed from cotton ... However, all those achievements were reached under close attention of
the international community and under still continued pressure on GoU with the help of international economic
instruments. After declaration of a complete victory over forced labor these external factors will undoubtedly defuse. And
then I cannot forecast how this “repainted” system
which has preserved intact all the mechanisms and
actors, will behave left tet-a-tet with the
citizens of Uzbekistan?
Let me describe one episode from my
experience of the times when perestroika began in the USSR.
I loved (and still love) to travel around
Alexander Pushkin's places, including so-called. "Pushkin ring of the
Upper Volga", which starts from the city of Torzhok. So one day, walking around
Torzhok, I discovered there a fragment of the GULAG, an abandoned, but very
well-preserved “zone” (a prison camp and prison factory surrounded by
one fence). I was struck by a tall fence of
vertically standing long logs with barbed wire, guard towers, searchlights. I
brought my friend there, a Moscow correspondent for Swiss French-speaking
television, and she, too, was amazed by this GULAG remnant. Pushing the iron door of the gate, she found that the door
was not locked, we entered "the zone", the door of the security booth
was also opened. Inside, I saw some buttons and pressed one: and suddenly the
gates of the “zone” began to open! The second button turned on the spotlights
around the perimeter of the “zone”, the third button turned on the alarm siren,
to the sound of which from two nice houses in
the street, not far from the gate of the “zone” people came running. It turned
out that these nice houses were built specifically for VOKHR - guards and
wardens of the "zone", they remained there to live after the
"zone" was closed, they still live by their own community (even if
the apartments in these houses were released, no one wanted live with them).
One of them, the former head of the “zone” for the “regime”, agreed to drink a
beer with us and said that the “zone” was for female convicts, many of
them on political charges, and then, when it was
closed, the authorities after
warm farewells, asked former wardens to keep a neighbor’s eye after the “zone”:
“May be it will be needed some day again”.
“So what, - said the former VOKHR,
- we are still young, we are paid fatty pensions,
why not keep an eye out, what if we are still useful? ".
So, the state system of forced labor in
Uzbekistan, in its current repainted form and stamped with ILO approval, where
all the elements, mechanisms and even personalities are preserved, is in a much
better condition than the “zone” in Torzhok ... It’s a pity that the ILO
participated in repainting this system ...
D.T. What do
you think, and why does the ILO need it?
A.M. I do not
know, Dima, for me it is a mystery: why was it all needed for the ILO and the
In fact, the World Bank among its
most important goals declares the eradication of poverty and the fight against
corruption; the ILO declares eradication of child and forced labor. So in 2013, when the
WB projects were launched in Uzbekistan, the situation was very favorable: it
was the peak of pressure on GoU by the international human rights community and
by business brands. It was also clear that GoU really
needed money from the World Bank and was willing to cooperate with it to improve
somehow its international image. And if at that moment the World Bank and the
ILO had joined forces, and the condition for GoU would be set: World Bank can
consider financing only if the use of child and forced labor was stopped, and
replaced with a bona fide transparent system
of public works involving the unemployed and the poor. Firstly, it would be at
least some kind of material assistance to people, and a small step toward
eradicating poverty and stopping corruption (when people were forced to pay
bribes for exemption from hard labor in the fields); and secondly, the ILO
would take a step towards its goals - the eradication of child and forced
labor, and most importantly - the citizens of Uzbekistan would cease to suffer
from forced labor. This is called in English a
“win win solution” - a solution that
would suit everyone. Why, instead of this possible and honest path, was the
path of hypocrisy chosen, when the ILO came up with methodology designed
for turning a blind eye on obvious violations, and write in the conclusions of its
reports something that did not correspond to the revealed facts, and
the WB pretended to believe to these conclusions? Corruption continued to
flourish, while the people of Uzbekistan continued to suffer ... Forced labor is also a suffering
from humiliation, it also causes a morally corrupting effect on
both forced people and those who force,
intimidate and punish, this is a moral degradation of civil of society. Why did
the World Bank and the ILO needed to lengthen this evil? For me, this is a
Indeed, the world has accumulated a great
experience of honest and transparent organization of public works, which could
be shared with Uzbekistan. And Uzbekistan itself has a certain experience in
this matter: the Great Fergana, North Fergana and South Fergana canals
were built in the beginning of the XX century using
the “folk construction” method, a prototype of public works.
D.T. At the beginning of
our conversation you said that one of the goals of your research was to understand
whether the ILO policy and methodology in Uzbekistan can be used when working
in other countries with authoritarian regimes? What do you say to that?
Firstly. Institutionally and functionally ILO is not suitable for field monitoring. This is not the activity for
which it was established, which is spelled out in its constitution, and in
which it has experience.
Second. Policies based on endless compromises and trade offs in basic
principles are not suitable for work in authoritarian regimes. Practice shows
that authoritaritarism is afraid of publicity and economic losses. The ILO cannot provide either.
Third. Complete substitution of monitoring of civil society by monitoring of
international officials in favor of each other is also unacceptable, because
such monitoring is ineffective, it isolates civil society and can put civil
society monitors in jeopardy as it happens in Uzbekistan.
On the whole, the ILO’s experiment with field monitoring and the policy of
“appeasing” the authoritarian government in Uzbekistan should be considered
untenable, because while President Karimov was alive, he did not pay any
attention to the ILO and continued to force millions to the fields,
understanding that ILO would not dare to
catch him by hand. And one cannot expect that every time the ILO is engaged in
monitoring in a particular country, then the dictator in this country will die,
and a democrat will replace him.
D.T. Today Uzbekistan is
passing though really serious changes, also for the human rights activists. A
lot of enthusiasm, and many connect positive changes with the ILO
A.M. This is a
myth. A longstanding authoritarian ruler died in Uzbekistan, and a man with
different views came to replace him, but using so far created earlier authoritarian mechanism to
carry out his policy. And what does the ILO have to do with this? Nothing.
I would rather think of human rights defenders
in a relation with the new policy, who, with courage
and devotion in many years of work, were raising
the level of
civil society pressure in this authoritarian boiler, gradually shifting
authoritarian regime to the edge of popular anger.
To influence means to take some kind of action to
change the situation in the direction of your goals. And the ILO, from the
beginning to the present day, is ONLY ADJUSTING its policy to the situation: if GoU has
banned something, well, we agree silently, but if GoU cancels its own
ban - hurray! we won! - in no way this can be
qualified as influence. Karimov died on physiological reasons ...
Let us follow the dynamics of the ILO tradeoffs.
In 2013, the ILO was allowed to conduct a first monitoring. Initially,
negotiations were held that the institutional partners of the ILO, the
International Confederation of Trade Unions and the International Organization
of Employers were to take part in the monitoring, since their affiliates have much more experience in monitoring
child labor than the ILO staff. That is why the government of Uzbekistan
rejected this option, and the ILO did not argue, refusing the help of more
experienced partners. Further, the Government required the ILO to monitor child
labor on just one Convention instead of two, the ILO agreed. Government: do not
touch forced labor - the ILO has swallowed this too. Despite the initial statement
on independent monitoring in 2013, the ILO monitors were able to conduct
independent interviews only in the 4th year of monitoring (and in the second
year from the beginning of the Uzbek “perestroika”), and the ILO was allowed to engage civil society in
monitoring only this year. For any objective
observer it is clear that the ILO did not initially try to change the situation
for its goals, but made any compromises just
to maintain its presence - that is, it simply drifted and used the
opportunities that arose after the change in the political situation in the
country after Karimov’s death. Well, what kind of influence could there be?
D.T. How do you
assess the prospects for democratization of the Uzbek society?
A.M. For now, with reservations. I understand many colleagues, Uzbek human rights
activists, whom today's freedoms, unthinkable yesterday, fill with hopes and
enthusiasm. However, I have observed this several times in several countries,
including Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and monitored the situation during
the Arab Spring, and now look at what is happening in Poland, Hungary and Turkey. Any Perestroika meets with
serious resistance from the authorities and a large
part of society. The president and his new team can be any kind of democrats,
and pronounce beautiful words, but for some
small (and maybe large) khokim, it’s easier to force people to the fields than to organize normal public works,
because this way he knows for years, and because “business as usual” in
less painful and risky. And the other participant of the old system was accustomed to receiving bribes for exemption from
picking cotton, and this became a considerable article of his family income.
And the third likes to command people, confuse and intimidate them. What to do with
all of them: melt to buttons ? put in jail?
Therefore, the monitors this year will surely find examples of forced and child
labor on cotton - you cannot change everything everywhere at once: even the reorganization of the state apparatus is
difficult, not to mention changing of consciousness and long-term habits.
Social mechanisms have enormous inertia ...
And to overcome it is possible only due to the
long work of democratic institutions. In the meantime, I do not observe
construction of serious democratic institutions in Uzbekistan. And
unfortunately, the current ILO policy objectively slows down this process in
its field of activity. Here is one example. In Europe, independent and militant
trade unions are one of the most important democratic institutions. The trade
unions of the FTUU
system, naturally, do not belong to such: they were
created by the state, and not by workers, and are actually managed by
government employees and employers. Majority in FTUU Presidium are MPs of local
“parliaments” and members of territorial commissions for elections of different
levels, there are mayors offices employees and
even businessmen… Why GoU needs the heads of territorial trade union bodies to be,
for example, in election commissions? For using the
extensive infrastructure of trade unions for campaigning and choosing the right
people to power. So instead of effective collective bargaining in favour
of the workers - the main function of the trade
unions - the Uzbek trade unions serve as a channel
for communicating decisions of the authorities to the people: a tool for
implementing GoU policy. And this government
run FTUU, in 2013 was immediately recognized by the ILO as democratic side of
the tripartite social dialogue, just for the sake of
the ILO team short term goals and purposes; and
the ITUC, following this line, invited the FTUU into the family
of democratic unions of the world. Recently, ACTRAV, together with the
Pan-European Regional Council (PERC) of the ITUC, helped FTUU to gather
in Tashkent a nice “domiciling” party - introduction to the family of European democratic unions. Everybody were so happy. Fun! And do you think all
these dances will be an incentive for FTUU to
change? to reform? Quite the opposite - the
long-awaited goal has been achieved: FTUU was
recognized as real and democratic, hurray! In fact,
this short-term and selfish policy of the ILO has preserved this institution of authoritarian
power and saved it from dismantling for many years ahead.
And note: the approach is the same as in
repainting the old state system of forced labor into an allegedly voluntary
mechanism of public works. That is, not to bring the task to the end - to the complete and unconditional elimination
of forced labor, but to imitate the eradication: quickly repaint, declare
victory and receive prizes and awards.
Until I do not see true signs of dismantling of repainted institutions of
authoritarian power, and efforts in building
democratic institutions of civil society I will have my reservations about the
bright future of democracy in Uzbekistan.
D.T. And why the
to affiliate the FTUU?
A.M. I do not
know for sure. Perhaps, the ITUC leadership needs 6 million union members of
the FTUU today to demonstrate growth of the organization and increase in the
number of countries in affiliation at the
approaching ITUC Congress at the end of this year. In
addition to statistical indicators, the affiliation of the FTUU does not carry
other meanings. This is not an independent and
militant trade union and its affiliation will not strengthen the ITUC. Today it
is a ballast.
D.T. Thank you
for the interesting conversation.
A.M. The pleasure is mine. Thank you for your interesting questions.