Ulster University and the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights has released the first sector wide study on corporate integrity in Uzbekistan. The report and associated policy brief focus on the cotton cluster system, a landmark privatisation initiative designed to improve agro-industrial productivity, and address the structural drivers of systematic forced labour in Uzbekistan. State-organised forced labour regimes in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector have attracted significant domestic and international criticism over the past decade.
A new report released today by Uzbek Forum for Human Rights (formerly Uzbek-German Forum / UGF) on the 2019 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan documents both meaningful progress toward ending forced labor and the persistence of government-organized forced labor, said the Cotton Campaign. The report finds that the state-imposed cotton quota, structural labor shortages, the lack of fair and independent recruitment channels, and weak accountability systems contributed to significant ongoing forced labor, including in the newly privatized cotton textile cluster system. Lagging progress on civil society freedoms is also limiting the success of broader reform efforts.
Tashkent human rights activists Elena Urlaeva and Solmaz Akhmedova, and activists Karimjon Madazimov and Bekzod Norboev, who live in the Pop district of Namangan region, have been placed under a 14-day compulsory quarantine in their homes since June 8 on suspicion of having Coronavirus. They were given an administrative warning and, in the event of violating quarantine, risk criminal prosecution for failure to observe compulsory isolation.
Approximately 70,000 people have been evacuated leaving flooded homes and fields behind, with many livelihoods now in ruins. The reservoir, which was built from 2010 to 2017, contained 922 million cubic meters of water intended for irrigation in the Syrdarya and Jizzakh regions. There are now serious questions to be asked as to why a dam that was completed a mere three years ago could have been so seriously defective.
Uzbekistan has called on a global human rights coalition, the Cotton Campaign, to lift an international boycott of Uzbek cotton and textiles, citing progress in eliminating forced labor and the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Cotton Campaign is taking the initiative to develop a framework to encourage responsible sourcing, while providing brands with assurances that forced labor is addressed and civil society is empowered.
The latest refusal by the Uzbek authorities to register Chiroq, an independent human rights organization, was not only disappointing but anticipated. Human rights activist and founder of Chiroq, Azimbay Ataniyazov, received confirmation from the Ministry of Justice in Karakalpakstan on 31 March that his organization had failed to comply with several laws pertaining to NGOs and provided a list of amendments to be made for the next submission – the third in three months. The first application was rejected in January 2020.
«Unnecessary regulation of the non-governmental non-profit sector, the maintenance of bureaucratic hurdles and the prevalence of the control functions over building an equal social partnership – all together impede the development of civil society in Uzbekistan», experts Dilmurad Yusupov and Oybek Isakov note in their article for CABAR.asia.
For anyone following the reform process in Uzbekistan, it is apparent that the country is changing rapidly, particularly with regard to the economy. As foreign investors queue up to take advantage of a new business-friendly environment, civil society remains chained to a totalitarian legacy that shows little respect for human rights. Today, it takes about 30 minutes to register a business in Uzbekistan while an NGO can wait for months, even years.