Uzbekistan farmers are being forced to meet state quotas for cotton production

Uzbekistan farmers are being forced to meet state quotas for cotton production

The Cotton Campaign has joined forces with trade unions, investors and human rights organisations to call on the International Labour Organization (ILO) and its members to press the Uzbekistan government to end forced labour.

The open letter was addressed to ILO director general Guy Ryder and signed by 35 groups and business associations, including the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), the Responsible Sourcing Network, and the International Labor Rights Forum.

It calls on the ILO and its members the International Organisation of Employers (IOE), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), and the World Bank, to press the Uzbek government at a roundtable meeting scheduled next month.

"We write to express our appreciation for the ILO’s continuing efforts to advance the application of international labour standards in Uzbekistan," they wrote. "In light of the Uzbek government’s continued systematic use of forced labour, however, we also urge the ILO to use the upcoming meeting to again press the Uzbek government to fully apply Conventions No. 29 and 105."

Uzbekistan farmers are being forced to meet state quotas for cotton production, leading more than 1m Uzbek citizens to be forced to work in the cotton fields. Adult forced labour has been increased to make up for the lack of children in the labour force, with knock-on effects on health and education.

The letter explains: "This spring, human rights monitors in Uzbekistan have again reported that the Uzbek government forced students and state employees to prepare fields for planting, including in World Bank project areas. In May, the government arrested and brutalized Elena Urlaeva for documenting forced labour in the cotton fields. With these human rights violations, the government has demonstrated that it has yet to alter its forced labour system of cotton production."

At the August meeting, the organisations urge the ILO to: insist the government allow credible ILO monitoring of forced labour; insist authorities allow independent Uzbek monitoring without threat of harassment, and allow media access to investigate and report on the sector.

Additionally, if monitoring is refused and forced or child labour is still evident, the groups say they expect the ILO to inform the World Bank since independent, third-party monitoring and ceasing loans if there is forced or child labour in project areas are covenants in the loan agreements between the World Bank and government.

Finally, they request public reporting on the roundtable meeting, including the ILO’s survey of recruitment practices and its findings, proposed plan of action to apply ILO conventions, and agreements on next steps regarding the application of ILO conventions in Uzbekistan.