31 may 2016


In Uzbekistan the weeding of the cotton fields began at the end of April and is expected to continue until early June. The Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights is monitoring the Uzbek government’s use of forced labour to complete the field work. UGF is monitoring in 6 of the 13 regions of Uzbekistan. In this Chronicle, we present findings gathered by UGF monitors and independent media reports.

State-led forced labor of public-sector workers and university students to complete weeding of the cotton fields is widespread this year, following the pattern of previous years. To clear the fields, officials have mobilized the majority of public institutions in all regions monitored. The district governors have conducted meetings in which the directors of schools, hospitals and other public institutions had to report the number of employees they sent to the cotton fields.

Clearing the cotton fields of weeds in the springtime does not require as much manpower as the autumn cotton harvest. Yet the Uzbek government has mobilized approximately 10-20% of public-sector employees, primarily from schools and hospitals, to weed the cotton fields for 5-10 day shifts. Furthermore, schools require all staff to weed the cotton fields during weekends.

The government does not compensate the people mobilized to weed the cotton fields for their field work.

School and hospital administrators have offered to sell exemptions from the field work, and most of the public employees interviewed by UGF monitors said that they would prefer to pay rather than weed the fields. The administrators ostensibly use the payments to hire day labourers to do the field work, but there is no accounting for the payments. According to preliminary data, for one employee of a large institution one season of weeding costs 10-30 dollars (depending on the number of employees and the fields they have to work on).

Public-sector workers report difficulties obtaining cash for their expenses. In order to “cash out” money from the bank card, people need to pay fees in the amount of 10-15% of the amount they want to withdraw. Several people have told that they had to borrow money in order to be able to pay for their weeding.

As UGF monitors and independent media found during this springtime weeding season, the public-sector workers and private businesses understand that they will be penalized if they do not fulfil orders to weed the cotton fields. They report dismissals and fines levied against those who refuse or fail to contribute enough. This use of coercion to mobilize people to work for agricultural production violates the International Labour Organization Convention No. 105, under which the Uzbek government committed to “not make use of any form of forced or compulsory labour as a method of mobilising and use labour for purposes of economic development” when it ratified the convention in 1997.


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