Uzbekistan is pehaps the only country in the world where the central government actively contributes to widespread child labor. Each fall, school children are forced to leave school and harvest cotton for little pay under harsh conditions.

UNICEF estimated that 22.6 percent of children ages 5 to 14 years in Uzbekistan were working in 2000.

What Will 2014 Hold for Those Trying to Reduce Child Labor and Forced Labor in Uzbekistan’s Cotton Harvest?

For several years, the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which the National Consumers League co-chairs with the American Federation of Teachers, has worked closely with the Cotton Campaign to reduce child labor and forced child labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest.

Uzbekistan, run by totalitarian dictator Islam Karimov is the only country in the world where the central government has recently played a major role in causing large-scale forced child labor.  For many years, Uzbekistan’s leaders emptied schools and literally forced school children—sometimes very small children—to harvest cotton, a grueling, painful, sometimes dangerous job. The country is one of the largest cotton producers in the world, and Uzbek cotton sometimes finds its way into the U.S. apparel industry, despite a pledge by more than 130 apparel companies that they will not knowingly use Uzbek cotton in their garments.

For years, Uzbek children worked beside similarly conscripted college students and older adults for four to eight weeks at a time, missing much-needed school in the process. The workers were paid so little that their forced labors should be considered a form of temporary slavery. Those who refused were expelled from school, fired from their jobs, denied public benefits, or worse. Some harvesters have reported being beaten because they did not meet their cotton quota.  The forced labor of children and adults did not enrich struggling local farmers, but benefited the country’s ruling elite.

Despite aggressive advocacy by the Cotton Campaign, Karimov had intractably refused to ease the use of child labor and forced labor. Recently, however, the situation in Uzbekistan has shown signs of changing.

Advocacy by the Cotton Campaign led to a very surprising success in last summer, when the US State Department issued its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) country-by-country report and it included a downgrade of Uzbekistan to the lowest tier ranking, signaling that the Uzbek government was simply not doing enough to reduce forced labor and the worst forms of child labor in the country.

Although the advocacy community had worked hard and long to bring about this downgrade—and it was completely deserved—it was still something of a pleasant surprise. The US government has many strategic concerns in Uzbekistan related to supply routes for the war in Afghanistan, and it was assumed that the State Department would not be willing to issue the deserved downgrade for fear of alienating Uzbek leaders. Fortunately, the State Department honored the intent of the TIP report and in so doing, applied additional pressure to the Uzbek government.

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PRESS RELEASE: Child Labor Coalition Applauds State Department Downgrade of Uzbekistan in the Trafficking-in-Persons Report

For immediate release: June 25, 2013
Contact: Reid Maki, (202) 207-2820, reidm@nclnet.org

On June 19 the US placed Uzbekistan in the lowest rank in the Global Trafficking in Persons Report for failing to end forced labor, forced child labor, and curb human trafficking in 2012
(Washington) –The 30-member Child Labor Coalition (CLC) applauds the Department of State’s decision June 19th to downgrade Uzbekistan to Tier 3 in the Global Trafficking in Persons Report (J/TIP) ranking system. The report is an annual assessment of human trafficking around the world and the efforts of individual governments to combat it. Uzbekistan has been the focus of advocacy by the Child Labor Coalition and the Cotton Campaign because of widespread forced labor of adults and children to harvest the nation’s cotton crop.

“State-demanded forced labor of children and adults to harvest cotton each fall in Uzbekistan has long-been a grave concern,” noted CLC co-chair Sally Greenberg, the executive director of the National Consumers League. “By moving Uzbekistan to Tier III, the US government is telling the world that Uzbek leaders need to confront and remedy their use of forced adult and child labor immediately, and they must open their cotton harvest to International Labour Organization (ILO) monitoring to ensure that workers are laboring willingly.”

“We urge the Uzbek government to follow the recommendation of the tripartite ILO, and reiterated by the United States in this report, to invite a high-level ILO mission to monitor the fall harvest by August 1,” said Dr. Lorretta Johnson, Secretary-Treasurer, American Federation of Teachers.… Read the rest

International Workers, Employers, Governments Call on Uzbekistan to End Forced Labor, Child Labor

Press release: June 11, 2013


The International Labour Organization supervisory body recommends that the Uzbek government to take urgent and serious action to end forced labour of children and adults in the cotton sector.

(Geneva) – The Government of Uzbekistan should take urgent and significant steps to end systematic forced labour of children and adults in the cotton sector, said workers, employers, and governments from around the world, during the hearing of the International Labour Organization Committee on the Application of Standards. The CAS, the tripartite supervisory body of the ILO tasked with assuring that all governments abide by international labour standards, released its conclusions from the hearing today.

“We commend the international representatives of workers, employers and governments for recommending the Uzbek government to invite a high level ILO mission to monitor the 2013 cotton harvest,” said Vasila Inoyatova, Director of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan Ezgulik. “Their recommendations respond to the facts, including the deaths of Navruz Muysinov, Igor Yachkevskiy, Aziz Bakhtiyorov, and Umid during the 2012 cotton harvest.”

As highlighted by the German workers and Education International, the state system of forced child labour is serious, systematic and continuous. The Uzbek government has already mobilized children as young as age 10 as well as adults, to plough and weed cotton fields. On April 19, the deputy governor of Namangan region beat seven farmers for planting onions instead of cotton. As was the case during last fall’s cotton harvest, the forced labour of government employees this spring has again disrupted the delivery of essential public services, including health care and education.… Read the rest

CLC Member ILRF Calls on U.S. Customs Service to Halt Imports of Forced Labor Cotton from Uzbekistan

(Washington, D.C.)A formal complaint against the importation of cotton from Uzbekistan grown and harvested with forced labor was filed today by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), a leading American human and labor rights watchdog organization. Under the Tariff Act of 1930, the U.S. Customs Service is required to deny entry to goods that arrive at U.S. ports that contain materials made with forced labor.

For decades, the government of Uzbekistan, under the dictator Islam Karimov, has forced millions of children, teachers, nurses, doctors, public sector workers and private sector employees to pick cotton under appalling conditions. Those who refuse are expelled from school, fired from their jobs, denied public benefits or worse. The government combines these penalties with threats, detains and tortures activists seeking to monitor the situation and continues to refuse the International Labor Organization’s efforts to monitor the cotton harvest.

The complaint calls on U.S. Customs to issue an immediate detention order on all pending and future imports of cotton goods manufactured by Daewoo International Corporation, Indorama Corporation, and other companies processing cotton in Uzbekistan. Daewoo International, a South Korean-based company owned by the steel manufacturer POSCO (NYSE: PKX), and Indorama Corporation (www.indorama.com), a Singapore based multi-national that produces yarn, fabrics and organic cotton products, are two of the largest processors of Uzbek cotton.

According to U.S. import records, over 620 tons of cotton yarn and fabric has been imported into the United States from facilities in Uzbekistan since 2008. U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S.… Read the rest