Forced labor and child labor in the cotton sector of Uzbekistan is unique to the world: it is a state-controlled system, under the direction of a president in power since the end of the Soviet Union.
Every year the government of Uzbekistan forcibly mobilizes more than a million children, teachers, public servants and employees of private businesses for the manual harvesting of cotton. The Uzbek government requires farmers to grow cotton, and local provincial government offices (khokimiyats) forcibly mobilize adults and children to harvest cotton and meet assigned quotas. Children and adults are also forced to weed and prepare cotton fields in the springtime.
Threats of expulsion from school keep children in the fields despite the hazardous nature of the work and receiving little or no financial benefit. Adults are threatened with the loss of employment, pensions and child benefits if they refuse to work. The coercion used to ensure that children and adults participate in the cotton harvest stems directly from regional and local government officials.
Profits of the Uzbek cotton sector support only the Karimov government. The government only accounts for cotton income in the extra-budgetary “Agricultural Fund,” and only the highest-level government officials have knowledge of how the proceeds are used. Uzbek farmers are forced to meet state-established cotton quotas, purchase inputs from one state-owned enterprise, and sell the cotton to a state-owned enterprise at artificially low prices, under threat losing usage of the land. The system traps farmers in poverty, and the state profits from high-priced sales to global buyers.
Forced-labor produced cotton from Uzbekistan is exported primarily to China and Bangladesh, where it enters into global supply chains of brand-name retail and apparel companies. Companies based in China purchased over half of Uzbekistan’s cotton exports in 2013, and over one-third of all cotton in Bangladesh’s apparel industry is from Uzbekistan.
The administration of President Islam Karimov detains, tortures, and exiles Uzbek citizens who call for recognition of human rights, violating their human rights and denying freedoms of speech and the press.
The Uzbek-government forced labor system violates the human rights of Uzbek citizens and condemns future generations to a cycle of poverty. The practice violates Uzbek labor laws and fundamental international labor and human rights conventions ratified by the Uzbek government. The state-controlled system of forced labor blatantly violates the international convention against trafficking in persons and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.