More than one million people are forced to work during the harvest season in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields under appalling conditions – doctors and nurses pulled out of hospitals, students driven out of universities. It’s an annual outrage committed by the government of Uzbekistan, whose elites live rich off the harvest’s proceeds.
And the European Parliament may be about to give this system its stamp of approval.
Recently, observers obtained – for the first time – a document from an official that confirms the Uzbek government is organizing the forced labor. In response to a complaint on forced involvement of doctors and teachers, a Chinaz district prosecutor referred to a July 2016 decree by the Cabinet of Ministers regarding the cotton harvest of 2016, under which a decision was “taken to deploy all staff to pick cotton. Based on this decision all staff of the district departments and medical establishments have been involved in picking cotton.”
Adopting this Protocol now sends the wrong message to Tashkent. At the very least, before the European Parliament takes up its vote, it should closely examine the abuses of the latest cotton harvest, including the new damning evidence emerging about the government’s hand in orchestrating it. Or do members want to be seen by Uzbekistan’s millions of victims of forced labor as the parliament that turned a blind eye to their suffering?