Uzbekistans total harvest of cotton this year reached 3.4m tonnes

Uzbekistan's total harvest of cotton this year reached 3.4m tonnes

The Uzbekistan government has told just-style it has avoided using schoolchildren to harvest its cotton this year, instead drafting in adult public sector workers.

In a written statement, a government spokesman said: "The government of Uzbekistan decided not to attract students of national secondary schools and colleges for cotton harvest this year. Instead of this, we [have] used labour of workers of budgetary institutions and some civil servants." The spokesman said this had not disrupted government services. 

The total harvest of cotton in Uzbekistan this year reached 3.4m tonnes, up from last year's 3.35m tonnes, according to a recent statement from Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov.

"According to preliminary calculations, gross income from cotton production this year will increase by 12%, or more than UZS400bn (US$167m), compared to 2013. This should also stimulate domestic textile production and will also contribute for the increase of exports," he said.

Shavkat Mirziyaev, the Uzbekistan Prime Minister, claimed last month his country had exported US$1bn worth of textile products thus far this year. He told the 10th International Uzbek Cotton and Textile Fair in Tashkent the volume of Uzbekistan domestic cotton processing would rise by 500,000 tonnes before the end of 2015.

However, despite the government's assurances, the use of child and forced labour in Uzbekistan's cotton harvest continues to be a contentious issue.

While international pressure on the government has managed to remove children aged 7-15 from the fields, and the International Labour Organization (ILO) was allowed to monitor the cotton harvest last year, the US-based Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN) says over 4m Uzbek citizens are still forced to pick cotton or pay hefty fines.

Activists in September said many classrooms would be empty during the harvest as teachers are sent to the fields to harvest cotton, adding that public-sector workers, particularly teachers and professors, would be hit especially hard in the 2014 harvest.

"All universities and institutes of higher learning have been shut down so professors and students can participate in a mandatory 40-day shift picking cotton," according to The Cotton Campaign, a coalition of human rights, labour, investor and business organisations.

"Other public institutions are required to ensure 40-70% of staff are in the fields at any given time. Education has ceased entirely in some parts of the country as teachers fulfill their cotton quotas."

Even the US government has said Uzbekistan's government continues to be "complicit" in the use of forced child labour during the cotton harvest and has made "no advancement" in efforts to eliminate the practice. The comments were made in the '2013 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor' report compiled by the Bureau of International Labor Affairs on behalf of the US Department of Labor.