For decades, International human rights groups, the United Nations, including the World Bank and the International Labour Organization (ILO), have gravely condemned Uzbekistan for its use of state-orchestrated child and forced labor particularly in—but by no means limited to—Uzbekistan’s cotton industry. Nevertheless, though each year independent monitors report a growing number of adults forcibly recruited to work as cotton pickers, and though other forced adult labor flourishes throughout Uzbekistan (e.g. doctors and teachers forced to clean hospitals and schools in their free hours—all unpaid), Uzbekistan receives financial and technical assistance from the World Bank (WB) for infrastructure projects, including irrigation agriculture. The WB contracted the ILO to monitor labor practices in its agricultural project areas, relying on the ILO core instrument, tri-partite social dialogue involving trade unions.
Within Uzbekistan, the rights and interests of working people are ostensibly defended and promoted by the Federation of Trade Unions of Uzbekistan (FTUU). Until recently, the FTUU has been widely regarded by the international trade union movement as an outlier – a vestige of the Soviet era when trade unions were controlled by governments, lacked internal democracy, and failed to perform a genuine role in pursuing the welfare of workers. However, two recent developments have led some to suggest the FTUU may be evolving toward greater independence and representativeness:
- The ILO has included FTUU as a partner in monitoring labor practices in Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest, beginning with an assessment of child labor in the harvest in 2013 and continuing through three years of monitoring on the WB projects. Progress with reduction of child labor has led the ILO to rely increasingly on the FTUU, and even to suggest that it could eventually take over the task of monitoring entirely.
- In 2015, largely because the Uzbek government had ceased using systematic child labor for cotton harvests the year before (instead increasing its reliance on forced adult labor), the FTUU applied for and received associate affiliate status in the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), a sort of probation period in which regular reports will be used to determine whether it satisfies the ITUC criteria for independence and representativeness.
This research evaluates the FTUU with a focus on the above-mentioned issues. It seeks to determine, first, whether the FTUU’s structure and performance indicate that it is really an independent and democratic workers organization representing members’ interests, and thus ready to join the family of independent trade unions. Secondly, it assesses whether the FTUU can perform as an independent, reliable partner for the ILO in monitoring the Uzbek government’s labor practices.
A summary of findings follows:
FTUU is not a Workers’ Organization
● FTUU is governed mainly by representatives of the government and employers.
● Fixed mechanisms in the FTUU charter does not provide opportunity for of the will and interests of the rank and file to move upward to the leadership, but instead imposes the interests of leadership upon trade union members.
FTUU is not a Democratic Organization Independent from the Uzbek Government
● Election mechanisms for top leadership and regional officials, as well as FTUU’s mode of operation, permit no place for democracy.
● FTUU promotes only the government policies and lacks a trade union agenda of its own.
FTUU Does Not Promote Workers’ Rights Via Social Dialogue, Collective Bargaining, Industrial Actions, Campaigns or Other Typical Trade Union Activities
● Social dialogue does not exist in Uzbekistan (at least in the real meaning of this term) because all three sides in “social dialogue”—the Uzbek government, the CCIU, and the FTUU—are controlled by the Uzbek government and represent the interests of the government and employers.
● Collective bargaining (again, in the true meaning of this term) does not take place in Uzbekistan. Labor relations are strictly regulated by norms and rules set up by the Uzbek government. Because of the bureaucratic nature of collective bargaining—where the Presidium of the FTUU controls the format and substance of all collective agreements— there is no possibility of diversity or democracy in collective bargaining, making it inconsequential.
● FTUU does not organize any industrial actions, public protests or campaigns—save for activities and campaigns to promote government orders. These include the organization of “khashars” to camouflage forced labor, and “education” of the rank and file in rooms “of spiritual enlightenment” that promote only the interests of the Uzbek government.
FTUU is not a True Defender of ILO International Labor Standards
● FTUU violates ILO Conventions by electing government officials and representatives of employers into its leadership and by inviting representatives of the Uzbek government to chair such “elections.”
● For many years FTUU has not only closed its eyes to forced labor in Uzbekistan, a blatant violation of core ILO conventions, but also assists the Uzbek government in mobilizing workers for forced labor.
● In its application for affiliation, FTUU misled the ITUC secretariat and leadership, as well as the whole ITUC family, by concealing its real nature and operating procedures. The English version of the FTUU Charter submitted to the ITUC differed in substantive ways from the Uzbek version approved at the last FTUU Extraordinary Congress.
Conclusion: FTUU is not a democratic or independent workers’ organization and does not share or adhere to the values, principles and goals declared by the ITUC. It does not represent workers in practice or promote their interests.