Every year, employees from Maxam-Chirchiq and Ammofos-Maxam are forcibly sent to pick cotton for up to two months. This often involves living and working in inappropriate conditions, away from their families, with inadequate food, water and sanitary facilities.
24-year-old Sohibjon Mutalibov, an employee of Ammofos-Maxam, the largest producer of mineral fertilizers in Uzbekistan, was forcibly sent to pick cotton in the Jizzakh region on September 26, 2018. Two days later, he died following a fight with a local resident who fractured his skull. Sohibjon lay in a coma for seven days and died without regaining consciousness in hospital in the Dustlik district of the Jizzakh region. Sohibjon was one of the hundreds of thousands of employees of enterprises that were forcibly sent to pick cotton in the fall of 2018 under the threat of dismissal.
International Labor Organization's Director-General Guy Ryder recently visited Uzbekistan, meeting President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and other high level officials to discuss how this country is reforming to end forced labor, specifically in its cotton fields. VOA talked to Ryder in Tashkent.
Uzbekistan’s 2018 cotton harvest, which concluded in all regions of the country the first week of December, showcased the enormous challenges in uprooting the country’s deeply entrenched forced labor system. Driven by a commitment to reform at the highest levels of the government, there is a significant transition underway, which is reflected in some encouraging signs of progress. But despite serious efforts by the central government to curtail forced labor for some citizens, key root causes remained in place, driving officials at both the local and national level to force citizens into the fields again.
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
Radio Ozodlik has reported that seven children from 3 to 6 years old were incorrectly vaccinated while the nurse responsible for conducting preventive vaccinations was sent to pick cotton.
As monitored by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), almost all citizens of Uzbekistan involved in cotton-picking this year have worked on the fields as volunteers, while the country has made titanic efforts to eradicate forced labour. However, the findings of independent human rights activists contravene the official data.
Two farmers from the village of Uzbekistan in the Akkurgan district of the Tashkent region, 39-year-old Sherali Toshiboev and 54-year-old Erkin Maripov, were arrested for not repaying loans for cotton. Erkin Maripov was released on November 24 after his family repaid part of the loan. Sherali Toshiboev remains in custody.
One of the soldiers told Ozodlik that despite the lack of cotton in the fields, ten thousand soldiers of the Uzbek Armed Forces are picking cotton in the Akaltyn district of the Syrdarya region. An employee of the regional administration later confirmed this information
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.