Ban Ki-moon: Uzbekistan Must Do More to End Forced Labor

Ban Ki-moon: Uzbekistan Must Do More to End Forced Labor

Labor and human rights groups are applauding a statement by United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who said during a recent visit to Uzbekistan that more must be done now to address “the mobilization of teachers, doctors and others in cotton harvesting, and prevent the maltreatment of prisoners.”

On June 5, dozens of labor and human rights organizations, including the Solidarity Center, sent a letter to Ban Ki-moon urging him to raise the issue of forced labor in which the government requires teachers, doctors and others to pick cotton each fall.

During each fall harvest, Uzbekistan’s government forces teachers, doctors and other health care professionals to pick cotton. At least 17 people died and numerous others were injured during last year’s harvest. Workers were forced to toil long hours picking cotton in unsafe and unhealthy working conditions that often included no access to clean drinking water. Students receive little or no education and medical care is inaccessible for weeks until the harvest is completed.

In the letter, the organizations called the Uzbekistan cotton harvest “one of the largest state-orchestrated systems of forced labor in the world for decades,” and listed six steps the Uzbekistan government should take, including permitting human rights organizations and journalists to investigate and report conditions in the cotton sector without retaliation.

Earlier this month, human rights activists Elena Urlaeva says she was arrested and assaulted by police as she sought to document the Uzebek government’s forced mobilization of teachers and doctors for the spring cotton harvest.

Noting that Uzbekistan has enacted legislation to protect the rule of law, Secretary-General Ban noted, “But laws on the books should be made real in the lives of people,” indicating the government has not properly implemented its own legislative framework.

Uzbek Human Rights Monitor Says Police Assaulted Her

Uzbek Human Rights Monitor Says Police Assaulted Her

An Uzbek human rights monitor says she was arrested and assaulted as she sought to document the Uzbek government’s forced mobilization of teachers and doctors to clear weeds from cotton fields outside Tashkent, the capital.

Elena Urlaeva, 58, head of the Uzbek Human Rights Defenders’ Alliance, said in an email that she was detained May 31 in the town of Chinaz, after interviewing and photographing teachers forced by government officials to work in cotton fields.

According to Urlaeva, police injected her with unknown sedatives and interrogated her for 18 hours. During the interrogation, the police struck her in the head. While the police held her, doctors probed Ms. Urlaeva in the vagina and anus until she bled, and took X-rays, after accusing her of hiding a data chip. She was denied access to a toilet, ordered to relieve herself outside and photographed nude. The police threatened more physical violence and confiscated her camera, notebook and information sheet of International Labor Organization conventions.

“I have never experienced such humiliation in my life, Urlaeva said. “The police were laughing and enjoying humiliating me.”

Urlaeva also photographed 60 physicians pressed into work in the cotton fields by city hall officials. Kindergarten teachers told her that the mayor had ordered the schools to send them to weed the fields.

Uzbekistan operates what is perhaps the world’s largest state-organized system of forced labor, forcibly mobilizing more than a million of the country’s citizens to pick cotton each fall, as documented by the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights and the Cotton Campaign.

The Cotton Campaign, a global coalition of labor, human rights, investor and business organizations that includes the Solidarity Center, says “the violent response by the Chinaz police reflects an essential element of the government’s forced labor system: the use of coercion—imprisonment, assault, harassment and intimidation of citizens reporting human rights concerns.”

Steve Swerdlow, a Bishkek-based Central Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, says Urlaeva’s detention on May 31 and alleged abuse while in police captivity represents “a new low by the Uzbek government” and an effort to “brutalize the country’s civil society.”

The Cotton Campaign is demanding the government of Uzbekistan conduct a transparent investigation of Uraleva’s assault, bring to justice the public officials responsible and issue a public commitment to allow independent human rights organizations, activists and journalists to investigate and report on conditions in the cotton production sector without facing retaliation.

At least 17 people died due to unsafe working conditions during last fall’s harvest, in which teachers, medical professionals and students were forced to pick cotton without any time off and with little or no protective gear, such as gloves. Children often had no classes during these weeks because teachers were working in the fields. Clinics and hospitals had few or no medical personnel.

The most recent U.S. Department of Labor’s annual “Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor” placed Uzbekistan among 12 other countries at the bottom of the report’s rankings and one of three, along with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Eritrea, that received the assessment as a result of government complicity in forced child labor. Uzbekistan is also among  23 countries that received the U.S. State Department’s lowest ranking regarding forced labor and human trafficking in 2014.

On March 19, the Uzbek government arrested, detained, deported and banned from the country Dr. Andre Mrost, an international labor rights consultant, whose firm, Just Solutions Network, Ltd., has bid on a contract to implement a feedback mechanism also called for under the terms of the World Bank loans.

Uzbek Government Deports Labor Rights Consultant

Uzbek Government Deports Labor Rights Consultant

(Moscow, March 24, 2015)—The arrest and expulsion from Uzbekistan of an international labor rights expert raises serious concerns about the government of Uzbekistan’s commitment to international human rights conventions and the feasibility of the World Bank’s agricultural programs in Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan operates what is perhaps the world’s largest state-organized system of forced labor, forcibly mobilizing more than a million of the country’s citizens to pick cotton each fall. When the World Bank initiated new loans to Uzbekistan’s agriculture sector last year, the Bank conditioned the loans on the Uzbek government following through on promises not to use forced labor in the areas where the Bank-funded projects will operate.

On March 19, the Uzbek government arrested, detained, deported and banned from the country Dr. Andre Mrost, an international labor rights consultant, whose firm, Just Solutions Network, Ltd., has bid on a contract to implement a feedback mechanism also called for under the terms of the World Bank loans.

“Three men in black entered the room, introducing themselves as officers of the Ministries of Justice and Labor and accompanied by three policemen. They demanded my passport and took me to the police station,” Dr. Mrost reported. “The Labor Ministry representative interrogated me first, then the police, and finally the national security service. They forced me to sign a document I could not read, in Uzbek, and then escorted me to airport passport control, where my passport was stamped with an order prohibiting my re-entry to the country.”

Got a T-Shirt? Chances Are Child Labor Was Involved

Got a T-Shirt? Chances Are Child Labor Was Involved

Cotton production involves the most child labor and forced labor in the world, according to the 2014 “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor” by the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs.

Overall, 126 goods are produced annually by child labor and 55 goods produced through forced labor. Most of the goods, like cotton, are found in common items like T-shirts or are among popular foods, such as melons and rice.

The sixth annual report, released this week, added 11 goods produced with children’s labor: garments from Bangladesh; cotton and sugarcane from India; vanilla from Madagascar; fish from Kenya and Yemen; alcoholic beverages, meat, textiles and timber from Cambodia; and palm oil from Malaysia. Electronics from Malaysia made the list for being produced with forced labor.

Uzbekistan, listed among countries using forced labor, including children, for cotton production, routinely requires teachers to leave classrooms and work in the country’s annual cotton harvest, according to a report the Uzbek-German Forum issued last month.

The lengthy list of goods produced with child labor and forced labor includes garments, fish coffee, shrimp and other shellfish, tea, corn, tobacco and peanuts.

See the full list.

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