Forced labour rampant in Uzbek silk sector
In a damning report, the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights has said that the Uzbek government instead of using cocoon cultivation as a development strategy or means of poverty alleviation, exploits the most vulnerable sectors of the population, such as farmers, teachers, and rural residents dependent on social welfare payments, and forces them to cultivate cocoons under threats of penalties.
After a wide survey, the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights concluded that “Uzbek government officials use forced labor to reap the profit from silk exports, produced by a system that relies on human rights violations and which contributes to corruption and poverty.”
Uzbekistan exports the majority of silk produced, providing the government with a key source of hard currency, but profits are not returned to producers. The state strives to produce ever-greater quantities of silk but, given the current production system, this leads to greater pressure and rights violations against farmers and the further impoverishment of the rural population.
“This system survives only in the context of an opaque and corrupt state-controlled economy, lack of ownership of land and lack of rule of law. Entrenched interests in the profits from the silk industry in the hands of a small elite serve as a disincentive for true structural reforms,” the report said.
It called for real structural reforms to transform the silk industry from a system of exploitation to an economic sector that supports sustainable livelihoods to rural residents. “Fundamentally, the government must uphold its international and national legal obligations to not use and abolish forced labour. Farmers must be provided real autonomy and meaningful decision-making authority over farming activities on the land they farm,” it said.
In its recommendations, the Forum has said the Uzbek government must take immediate measures to eradicate forced labour in silk cocoon production, abolish mandatory production quotas, hold government officials who continue to use or ignore the use of forced labour in the silk cocoon production accountable under the law and invite the International Labour Organization to examine compliance with international labor conventions.
It also recommended reforming the silk sector by guaranteeing private property rights, especially for farmers and their use of land under lease agreements and using world market prices to establish procurement prices and ending government monopoly control over the silk cocoon market.
The Forum also recommended that global financial institutions and donor organisations should ensure that no financing or project support contributes to the use of forced labour.