A group of campaigners trying to eradicate child labour and forced labour in cotton production in Central Asia has outlined a series of recommendations to end what it calls “state-sponsored” forced labour in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector.
The new Roadmap of Reforms for Uzbekistan set out by the Cotton Campaign aims to support the process of reform that is currently underway in the country and to ensure the efforts being taken are sustainable.
The document is informed, Cotton Campaign says, by wide-ranging consultations with its partners and dialogue with the government of Uzbekistan over the last year.
Its three core objectives were presented to the Uzbek government in February, and include an end to systemic forced labour; structural reforms; and empowering civil society. The three are complementary and mutually reinforcing, Cotton Campaign says, noting: “Systemic forced labour cannot be eliminated without the enactment of structural reforms, nor can reforms be achieved without the empowerment of civil society to ensure transparency and accountability across every aspect of the reform process.”
While the group commends the commitment to reform made by President Mirziyoyev in September 2017 and acknowledges progress in the 2017 and 2018 harvests towards ending mass, state-sponsored adult forced labour – which followed the elimination of systemic child labour in the cotton harvest – it also notes systemic forced labour persisted in the 2018 harvest due to the structural causes that remain in place.
However, the organisation says it has been “encouraged” by the willingness of the Uzbek government to engage, and its openness to consider its perspectives and recommendations since early 2018.
In the past year, the Cotton Campaign has met with high-level officials from the Uzbek government to discuss implementing activities to follow up on the President’s commitment, as well as hosting a delegation of Uzbek Government officials in Washington, DC in February 2019 to discuss the reform process.
It says while some of the reforms outlined in the Roadmap require time to implement fully, progress can be made towards each of the three core objectives in the 2019 harvest and beyond.
“Together with supporting apparel brands and industry associations, we will use this roadmap as the basis for our further engagement with the government of Uzbekistan to help drive systemic reforms and guide future consideration of the Uzbek Cotton Pledge,” says Patricia Jurewicz, founder and vice president of the Responsible Sourcing Network.
Earlier this week, the US State Department released its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report in which Uzbekistan remained at the ranking of Tier 2, Watchlist, which is reserved for countries that do not meet minimum standards to eliminate human trafficking but are making efforts to do so.