Uzbek human rights defender Elena Urlaeva has been detained against her will in a psychiatric hospital in Tashkent and the government should release her immediately, the Cotton Campaign said today. The Cotton Campaign is a coalition of worker rights and human rights groups that includes the Solidarity Center.
“Holding Elena Urlaeva in a psychiatric hospital without a clear medical rationale is a grave breach of medical ethics,” says Umida Niyazova, director of the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (UGF). “She should be released immediately, and the Uzbek government must cease using hospitals as extrajudicial detention centers.”
Urlaeva’s Efforts Key to Reducing Child Labor
Urlaeva for years has documented forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields, where some 1 million teachers, medical professionals and others are forced to toil during harvest seasons. She has been credited with helping significantly reduce child labor in cotton fields, and this month was among human rights defenders in Uzbekistan to receive the International Labor Rights Forum 2016 Labor Rights Defenders Award.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has pushed the Uzbek government to end forced labor. Following a complaint by Uzbek civil society, the World Bank attached covenants stipulating its loans to Uzbekistan could be stopped and subject to repayment if forced or child labor was detected in project areas by ILO monitors contracted by the World Bank to carry out labor monitoring during the harvest. In March, members of the Cotton Campaign urged the World Bank to make good on its promise.
Uktam Pardaev, another Uzbek labor rights activist was jailed while he was monitoring last fall’s cotton harvest in Uzbekistan and now is serving three years’ probation at his home, where he is under constant surveillance by security services. (You can take action to help Pardaev.)
Also last fall, Uzbek human rights defender Dimitry Tikhonov reported that his home office was burned and all the equipment and documentation he collected on Uzbekistan’s use of forced labor in the country’s cotton harvestsm destroyed. No other room in his home was touched by the fire, he said. Tikhonov also was arrested and beaten by police as he took photos of some 20 busloads of teachers and school employees forced into the cotton fields for the annual harvest. Tikhonov has since fled the country.
The stories of all three Uzbek human rights defenders are featured in a video created as part of the Labor Rights Defenders Award ceremony, in which a voice-over points out that “the Uzbek government treats them as enemies of the state because of their peaceful human rights activities.”
Addressing unemployment and underemployment, especially for young workers, is the most pressing issue for trade unions across Africa, according to participants in an African Labor Leaders Exchange Program sponsored by the Solidarity Center.
Speaking at a December 9 panel discussion at the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., six union leaders from Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and South Africa discussed the challenges in securing economic prosperity for working people—and their strategies for empowering workers in the formal and informal economies.
“What faces us is high levels of unemployment, poverty,” said Edward de Klerk, deputy general secretary of South Africa’s United National Transport Union (UNTU).
“Unemployment is an African issue,” said Philip Kwoba, director of Youth Organizing with the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) in Kenya. Unions in Kenya are reaching out to informal economy workers, which include many young workers, helping them form worker savings associations as a step toward unionization and gaining bargaining rights. “We are allocating resources to help,” said Kwoba.
Members of the panel, moderated by Solidarity Center Regional Program Director for Africa Imani Countess, said poverty also is fueled by low wages. “Wage inequality is this battle still we have got,” said de Klerk. In Nigeria, unions are tackling wage issues by addressing government policies that reduce the pay of public-employees, including teachers, said Muhammed Nasir Idris, National Treasurer Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT).
Lack of employment opportunity and poverty in Liberia puts youth at risk of labor trafficking within the country’s borders, said Liberia Labor Congress (LLC) General Secretary David Sackoh.
Sackoh said labor recruiters take children from parents in their villages, promising the children will go to school in the city. Instead, the children are used in forced labor. “Even though our research shows (the children) want to return,” they are unable to do so for seven to 10 years,” he said.
Sackoh pointed to the Liberian trade union movement’s tremendous victory in eradicating child labor at the Firestone Natural Rubber Liberia plantation, and said the union movement now is working to address the issue at the seven other plantations across the country.
During questions with the audience, which included a packed crowd of union activists, policy experts and international experts, union leaders also discussed drawing more women into trade union leadership.
“Getting women elected to high offices is now on the union agenda,” said Boniface Kavuvi, general secretary of the Kenya Union of Commercial, Food and Allied Workers (KUCFAW). Kavuvi pointed to domestic workers in Kenya, represented by KUDHEIHA, as an example of dynamic organizing and strong leadership by women in Kenya. “They have done a tremendous job,” he said.
In Liberia, unions are pushing for 30 percent representation by women in union leadership, mirroring the country’s effort to increase women’s representation in the national legislature, said Isaac Grant, LLC organizing coordinator.
The six union leaders traveled to the United States for a South–South labor leaders’ exchange in which African labor leaders met with community and trade union organizers across the southern United States. The Solidarity Center worked with the U.S.-based labor education program, the National Labor Leadership Initiative (NLLI), to facilitate the exchange, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Global March against Child Labor, a coalition of organizations working to end child labor that includes the Solidarity Center, created a powerful short video clip you can email, post on Facebook, Tweet and send to your networks.
Here are some sample Tweets and Facebook posts:
Tweets Global March Against Child Labor fights to end child labor! WATCH to know why are we doing this? http://bit.ly/1QeZmdu #EndChildSlavery
Global March can help you do your bit to end child labor from this world! Support us http://bit.ly/1QeZmdu #NotMadebyChildren
Facebook Posts Everything that you buy isn’t worth it! WATCH http://bit.ly/1QeZmdu #NotMadebyChildren #EndChildSlavery
1 in every 6 children work. The shirt you are wearing may be made by a child slave. WATCH http://bit.ly/1QeZmdu #EndChildSlavery
Six people, including two boys, one age 2, another age 17, died this month in circumstances related to Uzbekistan’s fall harvest, according to the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights. Uzbekistan primarily uses forced labor for cotton harvesting in September and October, and last year, at least 17 people died during the harvest season.
The 2-year old boy died while his mother picked cotton under threat of losing her job as a kindergarten teacher. The 17-year old boy and at least three others died when the cargo truck transporting them to the cotton fields rolled over. Yusuf Esirgapov, a medical doctor, died after local officials ordered his arrest and two-day detention as punishment for not fulfilling the cotton harvest quotas assigned to the hospital he directed.
The Uzbek-German Forum, which regularly compiles updates on forced labor in Uzbekistan, also reports that the director of a middle school threatened to fire a pregnant teacher to mobilize her to contribute to the cotton harvest, either by picking cotton or hiring someone to pick cotton instead of her.
Teachers, health care workers and students are among 1 million workers forced to toil long hours in the cotton fields, often without access to clean drinking water and typically work without crucial safety and health gear, exposed to toxic pesticides and dangerous equipment. The state owns most of the land, leases it to the farmers and imposes cotton production quota.
This year, the government of Uzbekistan is expected to make $1 billion in profit from cotton sales, money that disappears into an extra-budgetary fund in the Finance Ministry to which only the highest-level officials have access, according to a 2015 Uzbek-German Forum report.
Uzbek police twice assaulted human rights monitor Elena Urlaeva this year, once in May for documenting forced labor in the cotton fields and again in August for distributing pamphlets explaining laws that prohibit forced labor.
In July, the U.S. State Department boosted the ranking of Uzbekistan in its Trafficking in Persons report, moving it up to the “Tier 2 Watchlist.” The designation means the State Department claims Uzbekistan does not fully comply with the U.S. Trafficking Victims and Protection Act (TVPA) standards but is making significant efforts to become compliant. In its 2014 report, the State Department ranked Uzbekistan as “Tier 3,” the lowest designation that means it does not fully comply with the minimum TVPA standards.
Earlier this year, the Solidarity Center was among 30 global unions, business associations and nonprofit networks urging the U.S. State Department to ensure its Trafficking in Persons report accurately reflect the serious, ongoing and government-sponsored forced labor in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
In August 2015, the Uzbek government committed to “prevent the mobilization of education and medical personnel for the cotton harvest,” at a roundtable with the International Trade Union Confederation, International Organization of Employers, United Nations, embassies and other high-level officials. Last year, the Uzbek government signed loan agreements with the World Bank agreeing to the suspension of finance if there is child or forced labor in the project areas.
Karim Sawadogo is young enough to count his age on his hands, but instead he uses them to hack away at the dry, yellow earth in the hazardous mine shafts where he works in Burkina Faso. He has a few memories of what it’s like to be a child in school or at play. “My dream,” he says, “is to make enough money so I don’t have to do this anymore.”
Sawadogo is among 168 million child laborers around the world, 6 million of whom are estimated to toil in forced labor, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s new report, “2014 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor.” Some 85 million child laborers are engaged in hazardous work, such as digging gold mines and working in agricultural fields sprayed with toxic pesticides, the report states, citing the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Uzbekistan Retains Bottom Rank for Child Labor Released yesterday, the report measures the commitment and progress made by governments to eliminate the worst forms of child labor—slavery or trafficked labor, bonded and forced labor, exploitive labor, hazardous work, commercial sexual exploitation and involvement in illicit economies. It ranks 140 countries on their progress since the 2013 report was released last October, from “No Advancement” to “Significant Advancement.” The rankings are based on assessments of meaningful efforts made my governments in the areas of laws and regulation, enforcement, coordination, government policies, and social programs.
The 2014 report ranks 13 countries as showing “Significant Advancement,” including seven in Latin America, four in Africa and two in Asia. Madagascar, Paraguay and Thailand increased their assessment level from “Moderate” in 2013 to “Significant” in 2014. Eritrea, South Sudan and Uzbekistan continue to rank at the bottom of assessed countries because of what the report cites as government complicity in forced child labor.
Sub-Saharan Africa again is the region with the highest incidence of child labor. An estimated 59 million children ages 5–17 are engaged in child labor, or more than one in five children in the region. Nearly 29 million of these child laborers are engaged in hazardous work.
Children Bear the Brunt of Trauma from World Crises
The report reflects on the call to action by 2014 Nobel Laureate and long-time Solidarity Center ally Kailash Satyarthi. “Let’s walk together. In the pursuit of global progress, not a single person should be left out or left behind in any corner of the world, from East to West, from South to North.”
Other notable findings from the report include:
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa affected 5 million children, some of whom turned to work to support themselves or their families during the crisis.
An estimated 1 million children were killed, injured, kept out of school, or trafficked as a result of the massive April 2015 earthquake in Nepal.
Approximately 75 percent of school-aged Syrian refugees in Turkey were not enrolled in schools, making them vulnerable to forced labor and exploitive work.
The State Department this year released an accompanying app, Sweat & Toil: Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking around the World. Users can access a comprehensive database on child labor, searchable by country, goods, or exploitation types. “This report and the new mobile app are intended as practical tools,” says Deputy Secretary of Labor Christopher Lu, “to identify the problem and help governments around the world firm up the foundations of such protections, so that children don’t fall through the cracks.”
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