A new report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) suggests child labour is no longer an issue in Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest, and that forced labour is being systematically addressed.
The ILO report to the World Bank says Uzbekistan is making significant reforms on fundamental labour rights in the country’s cotton fields; that the large majority of the 2.6m cotton pickers in the 2017 harvest were engaged voluntarily; and that the systematic use of child labour has ended.
The report – ‘Third-party monitoring of measures against child labour and forced labour during the 2017 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan‘ – claims there is a high level of awareness in the country about the unacceptability of both child and forced labour.
The report is based on more than 3,000 unaccompanied and unannounced interviews with a representative sample of the country’s 2.6m cotton pickers.
“The 2017 cotton harvest took place in the context of increased transparency and dialogue,” says Beate Andrees, chief of the ILO’s Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work branch. “This has encompassed all groups of civil society, including critical voices of individual activists. This is an encouraging sign for the future. However, there is still a lag between the sheer amount of new decrees and reforms being issued by the central government and the capacity to absorb and implement these changes at provincial and district levels.”
The ILO has been monitoring the cotton harvest for child labour since 2013. In 2015, it began monitoring the harvest for forced labour and child labour as part of an agreement with the World Bank, which has invested more than US$500m in projects that benefit agriculture in the country.
The ILO says instructions have been given by the Uzbek national authorities to local administrations to ensure all recruitment of cotton pickers is on a voluntary basis. In September last year, an order was given withdrawing certain risk groups (students, education and medical personnel) from the harvest at its early stage.
Moreover, cotton pickers’ wages have been increased in line with recommendations by the ILO and the World Bank.
However, concerns were raised at the end of last year regarding the ILO’s monitoring methodology – and the introduction of a new category, “reluctant workers,” to characterise labour that does not appear to be voluntary.
The organisation says its Third-Party Monitoring (TPM) project in Uzbekistan will now focus on the remaining challenges; particularly the need for further awareness raising and capacity building, which varies between provinces and districts. It will ensure all those involved in recruitment will have the information and tools needed to ensure cotton pickers are engaged in conformity with international labour standards.