In recent years, thanks to the strong political will of Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, a completely new system of ensuring human rights and freedoms has been created in our country on the basis of large-scale reforms carried out to glorify human dignity and comprehensively protect their interests.
At the same time, the work on improving national legislation, bringing it into line with international standards, reforming agriculture and other sectors, the widespread application of market principles, mechanization of industry and decent payment were key factors in prevention of child and forced labor in our country.
One of the achievements of Uzbekistan over the past five years is the complete abolition of forced labor.
If we look at the results of the International Labor Organization's Third Party Monitoring report from 2019, it shows that since 2013 Uzbekistan has been achieving a gradual progress in eradication of forced labor. For instance, in 2015-2016, Cotton Campaign forced labor was 14 percent. From year to year this figure gradually decreased to 4 percent in 2020 and 1 percent in 2021.
Moreover, the government intensified law enforcement efforts in 2019. The number of staff of the Labor Inspectorate contributing to compliance during the harvest doubled from 200 to 400. The Labor Inspectorate investigated 1,282 forced labor cases during the 2019 cotton harvest.
Furthermore, ILO monitors confirmed that wages had increased compared to the previous harvest, which was another effective mechanism to eradicate the issue. Generally, cotton pickers received their wages on time and in full.
There is no exaggeration to say that the abolition of the global boycott against Uzbek cotton by the International Coalition “Cotton Campaign” was a vivid example of the effectiveness of large-scale reforms.
Legal and institutional reforms against forced labor
Uzbekistan has ratified 19 conventions and one protocol of the International Labor Organization with the aim of complementing the norms of international law into our national legislation.
According to Convention No. 29 of the International Labor Organization, forced labor is any work or service that people are forced to do against their will, under threat of punishment. In 2014, Uzbekistan became the first country in Central Asia to ratify Protocol No. 29 of the International Labor Organization on Forced Labor.
The national legislature system of Uzbekistan fully complies with international standards. Article No. 7 of the Labor Code of Uzbekistan defines forced labor as coercion to perform work under threat of any punishment.
The presidential decree "On additional measures to further improve the system of combating human trafficking and forced labor" issued July 30, 2019, has created a new system of coordination of stale bodies activities in the field of combating human trafficking and forced labor to increase the image of our country in the international arena.
The authority of Uzbekistan paid great attention to institutional reforms as well. According to the decree, the national commission and the national rapporteur institute on combating human trafficking and forced labor were established. Also, subcommissions were established to fight against human trafficking and forced labor.
In order to eliminate forced labor, legislation introduced norms that strengthen administrative liability and criminal liability.
One of the most effective measures was the implementation of criminal responsibility for the use of child labor and forced labor. In order to reform agriculture by reducing state participation in the cotton sector, the system of mandatory volumes of harvested cotton has been abolished.
Measures taken to combat forced labor
Monitoring of forced labor prevention is continued. In particular, for the first time since 2019, monitoring was conducted with full human rights defenders. In 2021, 17 independent observers were provided with badges to ensure unimpeded access to cotton fields.
At the same time, the international Labor Organization’s Third Party Monitoring, National Monitoring by the Federation of Trade Unions, Monitoring of the Labor Inspectorate were conducted simultaneously.
Parliamentary oversight by senators and local deputies involving journalists and bloggers was set Representatives of civil society institutions and human rights activists were also widely involved in the monitoring.
The Uzbekistan media reported actively on forced labor issues in 2019. Journalists and bloggers were encouraged by the government to cover forced labor cases critically. The state labor inspectors have also started to investigate complaints about forced labor.
As a result of monitoring, administrative liability for forced labor was implemented against 259 people in 2019 (132 people during the cotton season), 103 people in 2020 (41 during cotton season) and 75 people in 2021 (five during cotton season).
It should be noted that thanks to the strong political will of the president of Uzbekistan, as well as the extensive work carried out with the active participation of representatives of civil society together with the International Labor Organization and tripartite partners of the National Commission on Combating Forced Labor, such successes have been achieved.
Touching upon future plans, the International Labor Organization announced in Uzbekistan its final conclusion in 2021 that during the cotton harvest season, systematic child labor and forced labor were not used at all, as well as monitoring works m this direction were completely transferred to the Uzbek side.
Earlier, Uzbekistan’s achievements in ending forced labor were noted by the US State Department. As a result, the international community highly appreciated the reforms carried out in this direction in our country.
While these results provide an opportunity to ensure human rights and develop the industry, particularly the cotton and textile industries, on the other hand, it lays a greater responsibility to maintain the achieved results which requires consistent continuation of systematic work in the field.
Now it is necessary not only to combat forced labor, but also to constantly monitor the creation of decent working conditions in all areas. In this regard, any incoming appeals and messages from social networks in the field of labor relations will not be ignored.
On June 25, 2020, a Global Report on Trafficking in Persons covering the situation in 192 countries was published. During the Trafficking in Persons Report launch ceremony, Mike Pompeo, then head of the US State Department, highlighted in his speech the great efforts of Uzbekistan in solving this problem are setting new standards for the countries of the region.
Despite the end of its boycott, Uzbekistan remained in the second tier in global reports such as Global Report on Trafficking in Persons (US State Department) and the Worst Forms of Child Labor (US Department of Labor).
One of the main recommendations in these reports is to monitor the forced labor and decent working conditions in other sectors of this economy -- silk production, construction, textile and catering
In this regard, it is important to improve the positions in the international community, to pay attention to expanding cooperation between Uzbekistan and the International Labor Organization.
In September 2021 in cooperation with International Labor Organization, Uzbekistan Decent Work Country Program for 2021-2025 was adopted
The main focus of the program is on the principles of decent work, reduction of informal employment and issues of social protection in accordance with international standards.
It should be noted that in cooperation with the International Labor Organization, the analysis of working conditions in other sectors of the economy, as well as cases of forced labor are being studied.
According to a study conducted by the International Labor Organization in the field of silk in 2021, there are no cases of systematic involvement in forced labor in the silk industry, children are not involved in the cultivation of silkworms. Many consider the eating conditions in the workplace to be good or acceptable, and only 1 percent are known to be dissatisfied with the quality of the food. Three-quarters of the workers had employment contracts and were satisfied with the amount of wages.
Currently, these studies are being conducted in the field of construction. We are confident that the quality statistics obtained during the study on working conditions, including forced labor, will be a good source of information for the further development of effective policies in these sectors.
Nozim Khusanov is Uzbekistan’s minister of employment and labor relations and is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Combating Forced Labor