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.
The Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations of Uzbekistan has published a list of officials who were given administrative punishments for the use of forced labor during the 2019 cotton harvest.
According to the document, 43 officials were punished during the period October 2019 to February 2020 according to article 51 of the administrative code: “administrative coercion to work, except as otherwise provided by law”. The article stipulates the payment of a fine equivalent to between 10 and 30 minimum wages, approximately $230 to $690 US.
The government, which is still highly authoritarian, needs to make good on its many promises of reforms that include creating an independent judiciary, allowing non-governmental human rights groups to operate, ending forced labour, allowing opposition parties to contest elections, and stopping censorship. At present these are distant dreams for ordinary Uzbeks.
After 17 long years of growing cotton and vegetables on his farm in Uzbekistan, Abbas has decided to give up farming.
He says President Shavkat Mirziyoev's latest decree for Uzbekistan's tightly controlled agricultural sector will force him to become a subservient contract employee of a new private "cluster" firm.
On November 28, the Khorezm Regional Civil Court rejected the request of Nafosat Ollashukurova’s lawyer to release her from forcible detention in a psychiatric clinic where she will now remain for another month.
A content of the document suggests that a super-centralized management system based on command-and-control methods, forcing farmers to grow and harvest cotton, as well as compulsory quotas for raw cotton delivery to the state, will continue. The issued decree and its annexes – the Strategy for the Development of Agriculture and the Roadmap for its implementation – do not validate the government’s serious intention to reform the industry.
There are considerable differences with regard to forced labor in Uzbekistan and Xinjiang, but there is an underlying corporate responsibility to not engage in human rights abuses.
The Cotton Campaign met with the government of Uzbekistan in Washington last week to discuss reform efforts to end forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest, which is currently underway. The Uzbek delegation, headed by Minister of Investments and Foreign Trade Sardor Umurzakov, presented its Roadmap to combat forced labor, which seeks to address the key concerns raised by the Cotton Campaign in its dialogue with the government.
Under the blazing sun in a cloudless blue sky, green foliage droops with unfurling white cotton bolls. In the Fergana Valley in the heart of Central Asia, in the shadow of snow-dusted mountains, the cotton is ripe for picking. If the Uzbek authorities have their way, it will become t-shirts and skirts, to be sold around the world. Uzbekistan, already the world’s seventh-biggest producer of cotton, wants to become a force in the garment industry, too, on a par with the likes of Bangladesh, China and Vietnam.
The Cotton Campaign calls on the Uzbek government to drop criminal charges against Mahmud Rajab, a poet, journalist, and human rights defender, whose trial on contraband charges is set to begin Thursday. The government should also stop interfering with independent reporting on human rights issues, including forced labor.