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ILO findings proves Uzbek cotton is free from systemic forced labor

New ILO findings showed that Uzbekistan- the sixth-largest cotton producer in the world- has succeeded in eradicating systemic forced labor and systemic child labor during the 2021 cotton production cycle. Earlier, almost two million people are recruited each year for the annual cotton harvest in Uzbekistan since the reform process of the country’s cotton sector began seven years ago.

ILO-Uzbek-cotton-free-systemic-forced-child-labor
Figure: A new ILO findings showed that Uzbekistan has succeeded in eradicating systemic forced labor and systemic child labor during the 2021 cotton production cycle. Courtesy: ILO

Under the leadership of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the country has embarked on reforms that include the modernization of the country’s former agricultural economic model and the eradication of child labor and forced labor in the annual cotton harvest that was previously prevalent.

The forthcoming 2021 ILO Third-Party Monitoring Report of the Cotton Harvest in Uzbekistan was made based on eleven thousand interviews with cotton pickers. Of them, 99 percent of those involved in the 2021 cotton harvest, worked voluntarily.

About one percent was subject to direct or perceived forms of force. The data shows that 0.47 percent of respondents reported direct or perceived threats by Mahalla representatives (local officials at the community level) related to social benefits, and 0.12 percent of respondents reported direct or perceived threats by employers related to loss of employment or wages.

The findings are the latest from the ILO Third-Party Monitoring project, which has been monitoring the cotton harvest in Uzbekistan since 2015 under an agreement with the World Bank.

Working conditions had improved since 2020. Only five percent said that the conditions were worse than the previous year which relates to transportation, food, access to water, hygiene and other facilities.

One in eight people of working age in Uzbekistan participated in the cotton harvest – the world’s largest recruitment effort. Sixty-two percent of pickers were women, and the vast majority were from rural areas, the report mentioned.

“Our collaboration has yielded good results – because, after 7 years, this year’s report shows that Uzbek cotton is free from systemic child labor and systemic forced labor,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.

“There is now an opportunity for Uzbekistan to realize its goal of moving up the value chain and to create millions of decent full-time jobs in textile and garment manufacturing.”

The ILO Third-Party Monitoring project is implemented with support from the European Union, the US State Department, the Government of Switzerland, and Germany. It will conclude in May this year and by request of the government, and workers’ and employers’ organizations in Uzbekistan a feasibility study for a Better Work program will be undertaken. The Better Work Programme is a joint initiative of the ILO and The World Bank Group.

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