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Labor relations are foundation for building Uzbekistan’s Third Renaissance

The Chairperson of the Oliy Majlis, the parliament of the Republic of Uzbekistan, and National Commission on Combating Human Trafficking and Forced Labor Chairperson Tanzila Narbaeva (Embassy of Uzbekistan in Seoul)
The Chairperson of the Oliy Majlis, the parliament of the Republic of Uzbekistan, and National Commission on Combating Human Trafficking and Forced Labor Chairperson Tanzila Narbaeva (Embassy of Uzbekistan in Seoul)
Over the past 5 years, unprecedented results have been achieved in Uzbekistan under the leadership of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, both in domestic and foreign policy.

One of the central areas among the ongoing reforms in Uzbekistan is comprehensive development of labor relations and the labor market, aimed at improving the quality of life of the population and ensuring human interests, which is in line with the UN sustainable development goals.

In this regard, it should be noted that the key indicators of the development of society and the state have become fundamental changes in the public administration of Uzbekistan, which characterize the consistency, coherence, efficiency and timeliness of the implemented measures in the sphere of labor.

The first is the firm establishment of the principle: “It is not the people who serve the state bodies, but the state bodies must serve the people.” This allowed all representatives of state bodies to work in conditions of priority of the interests of citizens.

The second is the openness of state bodies. We have shown in practice that thanks to openness, both representatives of civil society and the world community were able not only to receive all the necessary information, to implement various projects, but also to establish direct contacts, which is extremely important in the rapidly changing modern world.

The third is the transformation of the model of development of society, in which the principle of “society as the initiator of reforms” becomes the main driving force of Uzbekistan’s democratic renewal and development.

These key factors contributed to the fundamental improvement of all areas, including the labor market and labor relations in general, and play an invaluable role in building the foundation of the Third Renaissance in the conditions of what President Mirziyoyev calls the “New Uzbekistan.” The main goal of the Uzbek government’s efforts is to ensure a comfortable life for its people and to make them look to the future with confidence.

“In a short time, not a single sphere and industry, city and district, village and mahalla (residential community associations) remained in our country, where the breath of renewal would not come,” President Mirziyoyev said.

Thanks to the political will of President Mirziyoyev, concrete results have been achieved in ensuring human rights and their guarantees, as well as the eradication of forced labor, including child labor. The implemented measures in the field of labor relations have already become exemplary for the world community.

In particular, on March 10, the international coalition Cotton Campaign officially announced the abolition of the “cotton boycott” against Uzbekistan, thanks to the efforts of President Mirziyoyev to initiate and implement reforms in the field of ending forced labor and developing the cotton sector. 

Many reputable international non-governmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, the American Apparel and Footwear Association, the US Fashion Industry Association, and a number of other organizations, responded positively to the elimination of child and forced labor and called on international brands to cooperate with manufacturers of Uzbek textile products.

In turn, the lifting of the boycott of Uzbek cotton will serve to the creation of millions of new jobs -- especially in rural areas -- as well as attract foreign investment in the textile industry and expand the export potential of Uzbekistan.

The Uzbekistan government declared that child labor was “completely eliminated” in 2016. Based on this, the European Parliament ratified the inclusion of a textile protocol to the partnership and cooperation agreement between the European Union and Uzbekistan.

The document provides for the removal of quantitative restrictions and the reduction of customs duties when importing 3,000 items of Uzbek textile goods into the countries of the EU. As part of its new status, customs rates for textile products from Uzbekistan were reduced and ranged from 4 to 12 percent.

It should be noted that in 2019, the export of Uzbek textile products to EU countries amounted to $56.7 million, and increased to $74.1 million in 2020. In 2021, it amounted to more than $141.8 million, which is 2 1/2 times the amount recorded in 2016.

In a 2019 US Department of Labor report, Uzbekistan was rated as making moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. Later, the status was upgraded to the second tier.

In October 2020, the US Trade Representative decided to complete the work to review Uzbekistan’s compliance with the criteria for ensuring labor rights in accordance with the US Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). As a result, Uzbek cotton was removed from the “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.”

Along with this, in December 2020 the European Commission conducted an analysis on the basis of which it was concluded that Uzbekistan met the criteria for participation in the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+). In April 2021, the GSP+ came into force for Uzbekistan.

In 2021, Uzbekistan improved its position in the Trafficking Against Persons (TIP) Report by upgrading from the Tier Two Watch List to Tier Two.

These successes were achieved as the result of large-scale labor reforms, such as strengthening the legislative and organizational and legal framework; implementation of international standards; reforming agriculture; development of institutional framework; conducting systemic monitoring and research; and activation of cooperation with civil society and relevant international organizations.

Improvement of national legislation

At the national level, 32 new laws were adopted between 2019 to 2021. Several conventions and protocols of the International Labor Organization and the International Organization for Migration were also ratified. In 2021 alone, 16 regulatory acts were adopted, including four laws, two ordinances, four presidential decrees, and six government decrees.

One of the most effective measures was toughening criminal liability for the use of child and forced labor. This brought Uzbekistan’s legislation into line with ILO Convention No. 29 on forced or compulsory labor.

In addition, taking into account international experience and in order to improve national legislation, the Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On Combating Human Trafficking” was adopted in a new edition.

In order to create favorable conditions for Uzbek citizens wishing to work in foreign countries, amendments and additions to the law on private employment agencies were also adopted.

The Oliy Majlis, Uzbekistan’s parliament, developed and approved a new edition of the Labor Code, designed to protect workers by providing them full and timely payment of wages, favorable conditions and working regimes and most importantly, effective protection of their rights in case of violations.

Uzbekistan is participating in a campaign dedicated to the centenary of the International Labor Organization for the ratification of international labor standards. The republic annually ratifies two ILO conventions on average.

To date, the republic has already ratified 19 ILO conventions, including eight fundamental and four directive conventions.

Development of the organizational and institutional base

The Uzbek government is paying special attention to the development of institutional frameworks to combat human trafficking and forced labor.

The National Commission for Combating Human Trafficking and Forced Labor has been functioning since 2019. It coordinates the activities of all ministries and departments on these issues and works with representatives of civil society and international organizations.

The creation of the National and Territorial Commissions to Combat Human Trafficking and Forced Labor -- as well as the establishment of the institution of the National Rapporteur on these issues -- facilitates comprehensive, coordinated and effective work in this direction.

The National Commission meets to improve the activities of relevant ministries and departments, and strengthen interaction with civil society, including with foreign partners. When developing new measures, all recommendations of international partners and representatives of civil society are taken into account.

The Ministry of Employment is taking all necessary measures to improve labor relations in the republic. Law enforcement agencies work to prevent infringement of human rights, particularly in the workplace.

Systematic measures are being taken in the agricultural sector as part of the “Agricultural Development Strategy of the Republic of Uzbekistan” for 2020 to 2030. Priority is given to creating a favorable environment for agribusiness, increasing its investment attractiveness, the widespread introduction of market principles, as well as labor mechanization.

In 2021, more than 30 legislative and regulatory acts in this area were adopted.

An unprecedented step was the development of a cluster system, the purpose of which is to form a single chain that combines all the processes of manufacturing finished products from acquiring raw materials to processing them and manufacturing the final product.

Work is underway to mechanize cotton farming. About 12 percent of raw cotton was harvested by machine in 2021, an increase from 8.5 percent in 2020.

Imported cotton harvesters and spare parts for them are exempt from customs duties and recycling fees for the next three years.

Special attention is paid to the wages of cotton pickers. The payment for 1 kilogram of handpicked raw cotton in 2021 has increased almost tenfold since 2015.

These measures are being implemented to strengthen the system for protecting the rights, freedoms and interests of citizens, as well as to eradicate forced labor in accordance with international standards.

Monitoring results

Since 2015, the ILO has been conducting third-party monitoring to prevent child and forced labor in the cotton sector.

In the first two years, monitoring was carried out exclusively by international experts. Since 2018, it has been gradually transferred to human rights activists, and in 2021, the monitoring was completely carried out by human rights defenders themselves, according to ILO methodology.

In 2021, 17 human rights activists were involved in the monitoring. They conducted a survey of 11,000 people, including farmers, foremen, representatives of civil society and cotton pickers.

The results show that there has been an absence of systemic forced labor in Uzbekistan for the past five years.

ILO representatives emphasized that, according to the monitoring results in 2021, Uzbekistan has managed to end the systematic use of forced and child labor in cotton harvesting. The country’s experience in implementing international standards in this area is a model for the world.

As ILO Director General Guy Ryder noted, this year’s ILO report showed that Uzbek cotton is free from child and forced labor. Uzbekistan now has an opportunity to move up the value chain and creating millions of decent full-time jobs in the textile and clothing industries.

The state also monitors domestic trade unions annually through the state-run Labor Inspectorate. The chairperson of the Oliy Majlis also established a Parliamentary Control process to root out cases of forced or child labor.

In the cotton harvest season, the Labor Inspectorate sanctioned 62 officials for violations of labor legislation. Of these, five officials had allowed forced labor.

A unique system of international cooperation has been created. The National Commission on Combating Human Trafficking and Forced Labor regularly takes measures to strengthen cooperation with foreign partners such as the ILO, the World Bank, the IFC, IOM, UNODC, the US Department of State and the US Department of Labor, as well as with the Cotton Campaign coalition among others.

Today, comprehensive action plans have been successfully implemented based on the recommendations of the ILO, the US Department of State, the US Department of Labor, as well as the Cotton Campaign coalition on combating human trafficking, forced labor and ensuring workers’ rights.

In this regard, the ILO plays a key role. Over the past few years, it has been strongly supporting democratic reforms in Uzbekistan and is implementing joint comprehensive measures to develop labor relations. Over the past 10 years, fruitful work has been carried out with the ILO in such areas as the fight against forced labor, monitoring the observance of labor rights, as well as the implementation of international standards in the field of labor relations.

A new employment strategy

Uzbekistan is a country with a high demographic burden on the labor market. At present, the working-age population is about 20 million; the number of employed is 15 million; and the number of people in need of work is 1.3 million. More than 500,000 young people enter adulthood and need employment every year.

As an effective solution to this issue, Uzbekistan, with the support of the ILO, is developing a National Employment Strategy.

Decent work has occupied and continues to occupy a central place on the agenda of the ILO throughout its century of activity. But only in the last decades of this century has this issue acquired a comprehensive, global character.

This is more due to the growing need of states and societies to provide their citizens with work and social protection throughout the world.

In such conditions, it is the actions of states and international organizations on the principles of decent work at all levels -- state, regional and global -- that will open up new strategic opportunities and effectively solve the remaining problems in the field of the labor market and labor relations.

The ILO estimates that, worldwide, there are 207 million unemployed people, up 21 million from the pre-pandemic period of 2019, and the damage to labor markets may become irreversible. The effects of the pandemic on labor markets are being felt all around the world. The pandemic has especially severely impacted women’s employment, the effects of which is likely to be felt over the coming years.

To remedy this situation, the “Decent Work Country Program” for 2014-2016 was successfully and fully implemented, and extended until 2020. The “Decent Work Country Program” for 2021-2025 is currently ongoing. Notably, Uzbekistan is one of the first countries that developed the Country Program taking into account the new requirements imposed by UN system reforms.

The new Country Program pays special attention to addressing such strategic issues as improving the legal framework governing labor relations; expanding employment opportunities and decent work; expanding the access of the most vulnerable groups of the population to quality and inclusive education and social protection; and strengthening social dialogue and institutional capacity of social partners.

These key indicators of decent work in the future will contribute to the development of economic opportunities; employment for citizens; and the creation of millions of new jobs. Most importantly, it will contribute to the sustainable development of society and the state.

In addition, these issues are reflected in the “Development Strategy of the New Uzbekistan” for 2022-2026. This comprehensive document includes almost all human rights and decent work standards.

Uzbekistan is also working with international partners on the implementation of international standards in the field of labor relations, through its “Better Work Program” and “Better Cotton Initiative.” At the end of 2021, Uzbekistan applied to the ILO and the World Bank to consider the possibility of assisting in the adoption of the Better Work Program and received positive responses.

Thus, it should be noted that the ongoing concrete measures in the field of ensuring human rights, creating decent working conditions and improving labor relations have laid a solid foundation for building a Third Renaissance in the “New Uzbekistan.”

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Tanzila Narbaeva is the chairperson of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the chairperson of the National Commission on Combating Human Trafficking and Forced Labor--Ed.
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