(Washington, DC) – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should urge the Uzbek government to take immediate steps to end forced labor, including the state-sponsored mobilization of children, in the cotton sector, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations said in a letter to Clintonon April 24. The coalition also said the Uzbek government should invite the International Labour Organization (ILO) to monitor the 2012 cotton harvest. The coalition consists of human rights, trade union, apparel industry, retail, investor, and other groups, including from Uzbekistan.
The letter precedes the US government’s planned release of its annual Global Trafficking in Persons (GTIP) report and the ILO’s annual International Labour Conference in June. Under the US Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), the Uzbek government must present a written plan that constitutes “significant efforts” to eliminate forced labor to avoid a downgrade in the 2012 global trafficking report, which would trigger automatic sanctions.
The Uzbek government has failed to meet this condition, the coalition said, persistently denying the existence of forced labor and forced child labor in the cotton sector and cracking down on local activists who attempt to monitor the cotton harvest. The 2011 GTIP report identifies the Uzbek government’s state quota system for cotton production as a root cause of the practice.
“Denying the International Labour Organization access to Uzbekistan during the cotton harvest for several years running and muzzling local activists who try to document forced child labor show that the Uzbek government is not credibly tackling this issue,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The US government should insist on independent monitoring by the ILO and local rights groups at a minimum to avoid a downgrade in the trafficking report.”
The Uzbek government remains one of the most repressive in the world. Reports about the 2011 harvest by local monitoring groups and academic studies highlighted the coercion of children as young as 10 and adults, allegedly including employees of the US company General Motors, to pick cotton and to fulfill government quotas of cotton production.
During the 2011 cotton harvest, the Uzbek government also arbitrarily detained three well-known rights activists who were trying to monitor the use of forced and child labor during the cotton harvest, threatening criminal charges against two.