UZBEKISTAN: Groups urge monitoring of cotton harvest

Summary: According to reports by local monitoring groups, on the 2011 harvest children as young as 10 were coerced into picking cotton and fulfil government quotas on cotton production.

[25 April 2012] - A group of apparel industry, retail, investor and labour rights organisations are calling on the Uzbek government to take immediate steps to end forced labour - including the use of children during the cotton harvest.  

A letter sent to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also said the Uzbek government should invite the International Labor Organization to monitor the 2012 cotton harvest.

The moves comes ahead of the US government's planned released of its annual Global Trafficking in Persons report.

Under the US Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), the Uzbek government must present a written plan that constitutes "significant efforts" to eliminate forced labour to avoid a downgrade in the 2012 global trafficking report, which would trigger automatic sanctions.

The coalition of groups, which includes the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), the Child Labor Coalition, and the International Labor Rights Forum, among others, sayd the Uzbek government has failed to meet this condition.

Indeed, it persistently denies the existence of forced labour and forced child labour in the cotton sector, and cracks down on local activists who attempt to monitor the cotton harvest.

Last year's Global Trafficking in Persons report found that the Uzbek government's state quota system for cotton production was a root cause of the practice.

"Denying the International Labor Organization (ILO) access to Uzbekistan during the cotton harvest for several years' running, and muzzling local activists who try to document forced child labour, show that the Uzbek government is not credibly tackling this issue," said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"The US government should insist on independent monitoring by the ILO and local rights groups at a minimum to avoid a downgrade in the trafficking report."

The coalition said reports on the 2011 harvest by local monitoring groups highlighted the coercion of children as young as 10, as well as adults allegedly including employees of the US company General Motors, to pick cotton and fulfil government quotas on cotton production.


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