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US ignores forced labour in Uzbek cotton sector
Jul '15
The US government's decision to upgrade the Uzbek government's ranking in its 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report despite noting that “government-compelled forced labor of adults remains endemic,” has come under fire from Cotton Campaign.

Cotton Campaign is a coalition of human rights organisations, trade unions, socially responsible investors and business associations united to end forced labor of children and adults in the cotton industry in Uzbekistan.

In a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry, Cotton Campaign said the unwarranted decision decreases pressure on the authorities in Tashkent to end forced labor.

“The failure to classify Uzbekistan properly is wholly inconsistent with the well-documented evidence of its systematic human rights abuse,” said Nadejda Ataeva, president at the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. “The US effectively sent a message to Uzbek authorities that forced labor of millions of its citizens is cost-free.”

The Uzbek government continues to operate one of the largest state-orchestrated systems of forced labor in the world. Furthermore, authorities suppress any attempts by citizens to report on these abuses and continue to publicly deny the use of forced labor, Cotton Campaign said.

In 2014, the government forced more than a million citizens to harvest cotton and farmers to grow cotton, all under threat of penalty. In only the first half of this year, the Uzbek government forced thousands of citizens to prepare cotton fields for planting, brutalized citizens attempting to document forced labor and deported an international labour expert simply for informing a legally registered human rights group about international labour conventions.

In its letter, the Cotton Campaign called on the US to redouble its efforts to persuade the authorities in Tashkent to eliminate forced labor from the cotton sector. In particular, the US should insist that the Uzbek authorities begin by instructing officials at all levels of government to refrain from using coercion to mobilize citizens to work in the cotton fields and prosecuting all officials who do; committing to an action plan to eradicate forced labor with the ILO; and permitting citizens and journalists, domestic and foreign, to report human rights violations in the cotton sector without fear of retaliation.

“The practice of forced labor in Uzbekistan has persisted for far too long and should be urgently ended. This year's report missed a crucial opportunity to end this abominable practice sooner.” said Umida Niyazova, director at the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights. (SH)

Fibre2Fashion News Desk – India

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