The Government of Uzbekistan has for decades relied on the forced labour of children and adults as a central component of the state-driven cotton production system. In 2012, the Government of Uzbekistan entrenched the use of forced labour in its cotton harvest. A shift in the demographic targeted has rooted the practice even more deeply in the country’s political economy, as an unprecedented mass mobilization of teenage children, university students and both public-sector and private-sector employees accompanied an apparent reduction in the mobilization of children under the age of 15. The Government failed to take steps to end the state-sponsored forced labour system, denied the practice existed, and steadfastly refused to cooperate with the International Labour Organization (ILO). Government authorities also continued to repress citizens who reported the on-going use of forced labour of children and adults. This report presents evidence gathered by human rights defenders in Uzbekistan on their government’s system of forced labour during the 2012 cotton production cycle. Claims of progress ring hollow in the ears of the children and adults of Uzbekistan who again were forced to pick cotton by the government authorities.
For the 2012 cotton harvest, the provincial government offices (hokimiyats) coercively mobilized children aged 15 to 17 and adults to meet state-established cotton quotas. While the Government did not orchestrate a mass mobilization of children under the age of 15, there were instances of authorities forcing primary school children to pick cotton. Children picked cotton under the threat of punishment, including expulsion from school, verbal abuse, and physical beatings. Government employees—including teachers, doctors, nurses, military servicemen; pensioners; welfare recipients; and private sector employees were forced to pick cotton under the threat of dismissal from work, the loss of salary, pensions, and welfare benefits. Children and adults were forced to meet individual cotton quotas and therefore worked excessive hours, conducting arduous physical work in hazardous conditions (including exposure to pesticides, lack of potable water, and unsanitary accommodation).