The use of forced labour remains a "serious concern" in Uzbekistans cotton sector

The use of forced labour remains a "serious concern" in Uzbekistan's cotton sector

Monitoring of workers during the 2015 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan has offered a mixed assessment, with no systematic use of child labour found but "serious concerns" raised over the risk of forced labour.

The third party monitoring, carried out by the International Labour Organization (ILO), focused on areas where specific projects supported by the World Bank are implemented.

Similar to the 2013 harvest, no systematic use of child labour was found in the country. But both the World Bank and the ILO say they have serious concerns about the risks of forced labour associated with the widespread organised recruitment of adults for cotton harvesting.

The monitoring concluded that robust further steps are required to remove the risks of forced labour.

"The year 2015 is the first time when monitoring of forced adult labour in cotton production in Uzbekistan became possible," says Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank regional director for Central Asia.

"This marks significant progress in our long-term strategic engagement with the Uzbek authorities, which ultimately aims at helping Uzbekistan reform its labour practices in the cotton sector and supporting the diversification and modernisation of the country's agriculture sector more broadly."

Progress, he says, includes commitments to the elimination of child labour, the roll-out of an awareness raising campaign and a national feedback mechanism, and the government's recent commitment to ensure that health facilities and primary and secondary schools remain open and operational during the harvest.

But "more needs to be done" to mitigate the significant risks of forced labour.

The World Bank is one of a number of partners working with the Uzbek government to modernise its agriculture sector, including moving production away from cotton towards more value-added products; liberalisation of the cotton industry, including privatisation; mechanisation of cotton harvesting; and introducing market-based labour mobilisation for seasonal cotton pickers.

However, the findings of the monitoring programme seem to contrast with separate feedback from the Uzbek-German Forum (UFG) for Human Rights, which says six people died during last month's cotton harvest.

The Cotton Campaign also points out that while the government of Uzbekistan agreed with the ILO in April 2014 to eradicate forced labour, more adults than ever were forcibly mobilised to harvest cotton last autumn, apparently to compensate for fewer children being sent to the fields. Forced labour was also used to weed cotton fields in the first half of 2015, it says.

Efforts by Uzbekistan to reduce reliance on underage workers prompted the US State Department to upgrade Uzbekistan from Tier 3 to Tier 2 on the watch list in its 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report.

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