The International Labour Organization (ILO) says its methods for monitoring the Uzbekistan cotton harvest are "rigorous" and constantly refined and adapted after its latest report was criticised for material errors of fact and "significant" methodological flaws.

The Corruption and Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) yesterday (20 September) issued a statement raising "serious concerns" over the methodology and ethical procedures employed by the ILO over its third-party monitoring of forced and child labour in Uzbekistan's cotton harvest.

'An Evaluation of ILO Third Party Monitoring in Uzbekistan', published in partnership with the International State Crime Initiative, highlighted key shortcomings such as a failure to obtain informed consent from vulnerable participants, a high risk that cotton pickers did not freely participate in interviews, the confidentiality of interviews and the anonymity of participants not being adequately secured, and vulnerable participants' wellbeing compromised, including being exposed to the risk of retaliation.

In response, the ILO said its monitoring methodology has been "constantly refined and adapted, always with a view to protecting respondents, ensuring independence and supporting the implementation of political commitments". This cooperation, it added, also encompasses large-scale awareness-raising campaigns, capacity building measures, development of complaints' mechanisms and other remedies and legal and policy reform.

The Organization said it has a comprehensive and well-documented monitoring methodology that includes standards, sampling formulas, data handling policies, ethical safeguards, templates, forms, and instructions.

"A number of [the author's] concerns have been addressed in the monitoring of earlier years, and they are addressed in this year's monitoring as well," the ILO said in its statement. "In 2018, particular attention will be paid to further refining the monitoring/research methods and sampling frames. We use a mixture of qualitative and quantitative data."

In further defence of its processes, the ILO said interviewees are able to select the time and venue for the interview, which will be carried out under anonymity and without a government representative present. The methodology, it says, is reviewed by an Institutional Review Board (IRB).

"Based on the qualitative data collected during the field visits, a set of hypotheses will be developed and tested through nationwide surveys. These are distinct from monitoring and provide crucial complementary information," the ILO says.

It also pointed to a claim by the authors that their analysis was based on a monitoring manual used by the ILO. What was reviewed, the ILO said, is the report of the monitoring of the 2017 harvest, "together with an outdated document" from 2015 from the internet.

"The ILO welcomes constructive criticism of our work and remains committed to conducting monitoring and research in a manner which is systematic, transparent and ethical."

In response to the ILO, the Corruption and Human Rights Initiative welcomed the proposals it says will potentially help reform the third party monitoring methodology and protocol in Uzbekistan. But it said certain assertions made by the ILO potentially misconstrue the methodology and process observed by authors Professor Kristian Lasslett, and international development specialist Vanessa Gstrein.

The Initiative refutes the ILO's assertion the authors based their analysis on an outdated monitoring manual used by the ILO.

"The analysis was based on international benchmarks for conducting sensitive research with vulnerable participants, distilled from the scientific literature. The report also provides an abridged summary of certain guiding principles issued by the ILO, which remain of enduring importance in a context such as Uzbekistan," they add.

"Throughout the evaluation every effort was made by the report authors to access relevant source documents from the ILO that would permit a fair and thorough evaluation.

The CHRI says an email dated 2 May 2018 to senior ILO officers by Professor Lasslett summarises the proposed methodology, and requests guidance on appropriate source documents. The ILO response was to inform the CHRI that, other than one document available via a third-party website, "everything else should already be in the documents available from the ILO website".

The report authors also sent the ILO Third Party Monitoring unit, and its Fundamental Principles and Rights branch, a series of questions on 19 June that sought clarification on a range of issues emerging from the draft evaluation. A reminder was sent on 17 July, but CHRI says no response was received.

"CHRI and the report authors support serious reform of the monitoring process and welcome the ILO's announcement in response to the Lasslett and Gstrein report. We are supportive of any further opportunity the ILO might offer to be a critical friend in this process," it said.