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Children still harvest Uzbek cotton – Anti-slavery Intl

December 29, 2012 (United Kingdom)

The 2012 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan has concluded, and the system of forced labour of cotton production remained the same as in previous years.

The Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights and the Cotton Campaign (of which Anti-Slavery International is a member) released the Review of the 2012 Cotton Harvest, which explains that implementation of the forced labour system was carried out with a demographic shift to older children and more adults, accompanied with an unprecedented scale of corruption.

The Review presents observations by human rights defenders throughout Uzbekistan, and highlights the following disturbing trends:
-continued forced child labor despite a demographic shift of the burden to older children,
-intensified forced labor of adults,
-continued rejection of independent monitoring,
-continued harassment of Uzbek citizens who attempted to monitor, and
-increased extraction of financial and other resources from Uzbek citizens by government authorities.

“Despite the government of Uzbekistan’s steadfast rejection of monitoring by the International Labour Organization and repression of human rights activists, a network of dedicated and brave Uzbek citizens documented the 2012 harvest to make this report possible,” said Bennett Freeman, Senior Vice President for Social Research and Policy, Calvert Investments. “Their findings present a call to action to governments, companies and investors to use their leverage to urge the government of Uzbekistan to end the forced labor of children and adults in its cotton sector.”

For the first time in many years, the majority of primary schools were not closed, reportedly under orders from Uzbekistan’s Prime Minister. However, forced labor of children as young as age 10 continued sporadically, and nationwide, children ages 15-17 were forced to pick cotton under threat of expulsion from school.

“The demographic shift orchestrated by Tashkent during the 2012 cotton harvest indicated the government’s interest in allaying international pressure, but the continuation of the state-sponsored forced labor system of cotton harvesting evinced that the government has yet to make any progress in application of its national laws and international commitments on forced labor and the worst forms of child labor,” said Shin Young Chung, Attorney at Law, Advocates for Public Interest Law.

Throughout Uzbekistan, an estimated 16% of all government employees, including doctors, nurses and other essential service providers, were ordered to pick cotton under threat of losing their job, salary or benefits. Teachers were particularly targeted, with 60% of educators from each school sent out of the classrooms to pick cotton.

“Not only were teachers’ basic rights violated, the schoolchildren who were spared from picking cotton this year were still denied the education they are entitled to because of crowded classrooms and missing teachers,” said Lorretta Johnson, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers and co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition.


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