During the International Labour Conference (ILC), workers, employers and governments condemned Uzbek authorities for their non-compliance with International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour.
“State-sponsored forced labour remains serious, systematic and continuous,” denounced EI Senior Coordinator for Human and Trade Union Rights Dominique Marlet, addressing the representatives of workers, governments and employers at the ILO Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS). “Children, some as young as 10, are forced to pick cotton under threat of punishment, including expulsion from school. About 60 per cent of school teachers are forced to pick cotton and supervise the quotas.”
Work in cotton fields detrimental to quality education
The most conservative figures estimate that up to half a million college and lyceum students were involved in the 2012 Uzbek cotton harvest. As in previous years, children forced to pick cotton worked excessive hours, conducting hard physical work in hazardous conditions.
Adults – teachers, doctors, nurses, civil servants, and private sector employees – were forced to take part in the harvest alongside children, disrupting the delivery of essential public services, including health care and education. Schools were closed in at least three regions of the country.
The participation of children in the harvest is organised and enforced by the authorities in order to meet cotton quotas set by central government, said Marlet. “This is a clear violation of national law and international conventions”
Uzbek human rights defenders who attempt to monitor the harvest were subject to harassment, intimidation, and detention.
Uzbek denial challenged
During the hearing at the CAS, Uzbekistan again denied that children worked in the cotton fields in 2012 and remained silent about the existence of adult forced labour. As the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and International Organisation of Employers (IOE) noted, this claim lacks evidence and contradicts the facts presented by independent civil society.
In its conclusions, the Committee recommended that the Uzbek government take urgent and significant steps to end systematic forced labour of children and adults in the cotton sector.
To demonstrate its commitment to abide by international labour standards, the Uzbek government was also requested to accept a high-level tripartite ILO mission to monitor the 2013 cotton harvest.
Delays would result in another year of over a million children and adults forced to pick cotton.