July 14, 2010


In March and April 2009, Human Rights Watch undertook preliminary research to examine human rights abuses against migrant workers in Kazakhstan. This research was part of an ongoing multi-year project looking at abuses against migrant workers in countries of the former Soviet Union. Human Rights Watch interviewed migrant workers who had worked in various sectors, including construction, services, and agriculture, as well as migration experts and representatives from NGOs. As a result of that preliminary research, Human Rights Watch determined that migrant tobacco workers were particularly vulnerable to abuse and focused further research on them. 

Human Rights Watch interviewed a total of 115 people for this report. We conducted interviews with 68 migrant tobacco workers from Kyrgyzstan from 39 families, including adults, ages 19 to 50, and five child migrant tobacco workers, under 18. Human Rights Watch also saw and spoke with children who had traveled to Kazakhstan with their families, but who were not working.

The majority of interviews with migrant tobacco workers took place during research trips to the Enbekshikazakh district of Almaty province, the main tobacco-growing region of Kazakhstan, in June and September 2009. We interviewed migrant workers working in tobacco fields in and near seven villages: Chilik, Druzhba, Karaturyk, Koram, Lavar, Malybai, and Tabaksovkhoz. In addition, we conducted interviews with migrant tobacco workers who had worked in Kazakhstan in 2009 or in previous years at their homes in Kyrgyzstan in March, April, August, and December 2009 and January and February 2010. In addition to these interviews, Human Rights Watch also conducted a trip to several villages in Kazakhstan for photo documentation in October 2009. No interviews were conducted during this trip, but a Human Rights Watch researcher witnessed children working in tobacco. 

In addition to migrant tobacco workers, Human Rights Watch interviewed 11 migrant workers and their families from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan engaged in vegetable farming. These interviews provided valuable information about the situation for other types of agricultural migrant workers in the Enbekshikazakh district of Kazakhstan. This information is reflected in this report only where it is relevant, for example in comparing the employment and wage structures for tobacco farm workers to that of vegetable farm workers.

Interviews with migrant workers were conducted by three Human Rights Watch researchers, including one native Russian speaker and two fluent in Russian; a consultant to Human Rights Watch fluent in Russian, Kyrgyz, and Uzbek; and a Human Rights Watch associate, a native Russian speaker. Some interviews with workers were conducted in Russian. However, because most migrant workers do not speak Russian, the majority of interviews by Human Rights Watch representatives who do not speak Uzbek or Kyrgyz were conducted with the assistance of a translator, translating from Kyrgyz or Uzbek into Russian.

In most cases migrant workers and other interviewees were interviewed individually, in private. In a few cases of interviews with migrant workers, other family members were present during the interview. Migrant workers were offered no incentives for speaking with us. Human Rights Watch made no promises of personal service or benefit to those whom we interviewed for this report and told all interviewees that the interviews were completely voluntary and confidential.

Most workers interviewed for this report said they were afraid that their employers might punish them for speaking about their problems. At their request, we have changed their names. Pseudonyms appear throughout as a first name and an initial.

We also interviewed farmers from Kazakhstan, three representatives of the Kazakhstan agricultural workers’ union, a representative of the main private employment agency for migrant workers in the Enbekshikazakh district, one unofficial intermediary, village akims (or mayors), and representatives of the consulates of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in Almaty. A request to the consulate of Uzbekistan in June 2009 went unanswered, as did repeated requests for a second meeting with the consulate of Kyrgyzstan in November 2009.

Human Rights Watch also met with representatives from the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Labor Organization’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (ILO-IPEC), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), United Nations Development  Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia, as well as Kazakhstani human rights and other NGOs in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

In Kazakhstan, we met with representatives from Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, and the Ombudsman. In Kyrgyzstan we met with the chairperson of the Kyrgyzstan State Migration Committee and one unofficial intermediary.

In June 2009, Human Rights Watch requested a meeting with officials from Philip Morris Kazakhstan (PMK). In response by telephone, PMK officials stated that they would require at least four weeks’ notice before being able to meet with our representatives.

On October 13, 2009, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Philip Morris International (PMI) detailing the preliminary findings of our research and requesting that they facilitate a meeting with PMK. PMI responded in writing on November 10, 2009 and provided further information in subsequent letters dated January 14, 2010, February 19, 2010, and March 11, 2010.

Company officials from PMI and PMK met with Human Rights Watch in Almaty on November 13, 2009, and PMI executives met with Human Rights Watch at our offices in New York on March 2, 2010. The results of these meetings and correspondence are detailed below and copies of the correspondence can be found in Appendix A.