Eradication of forced labour – striking example of the political will

In recent years, thanks to the strong political will of 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 – writes Nozim Khusanov, Minister of Employment and Labour Relations, Republic of Uzbekistan,

At the same time, the work on improving national legislation, bringing them into line with international standards, reforming agriculture and other sectors, the widespread application of market principles, mechanization of the industry, and decent payment were key factors in the prevention of child and forced labour in our country.

One of the achievements of Uzbekistan over the past five years is the complete abolition of forced labour.

If we look at the results of the International Labour Organization’s Third Party Monitoring report (2019), it shows that since 2013 Uzbekistan has been achieving gradual progress in the eradication of forced labour. For instance, in 2015-2016 Cotton Campaign forced labour was 14 per cent, from year to year this figure gradually decreased to 4 per cent in 2020 and reached to 1 per cent in 2021.

Moreover, the government intensified law enforcement efforts in 2019. The number of staff of the Labour Inspectorate contributing to compliance during the harvest doubled from 200 to 400. The Labour Inspectorate investigated 1,282 forced labour 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 labour

Uzbekistan has ratified 19 conventions and 1 protocol of the International Labour Organization with the aim of complementing the norms of international law into our national legislation.

According to Convention No. 29 of the International Labour Organization, forced labour is any work or service which people are forced to do against their will, under threat of punishment. In 2014, Uzbekistan became the first country in Central Asia to ratify the Protocol №29 of the International Labour Organization on Forced Labour.

Need to note that the national legislature system of Uzbekistan fully complies with international standards. Article No. 7 of the Labour Code of Uzbekistan defines forced labour as coercion to perform work under the threat of any punishment.

In order to improve this sphere, 32 legal acts were adopted in 2019-2021. The Presidential decree “On additional measures to further improve the system of combating human trafficking and forced labour” from July 30, 2019, has created a new system of coordination of state bodies activities in the field of combating human trafficking and forced labour to increase the image of our country in the international arena.

The authorities of Uzbekistan paid great attention to the institutional reforms as well. According to the decree, the National Commission and the National rapporteur institute on combating human trafficking and forced labour were established. Also, sub-commissions were established to fight against human trafficking and forced labour.

In order to eliminate forced labour, the legislation of the Republic of Uzbekistan 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 and forced labour. 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 are taken to combat forced labour

Monitoring of forced labour 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 Labour Organization’s Third Party Monitoring, National Monitoring by the Federation of Trade Unions, and Monitoring of the Labour 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 labour issues in 2019. Journalists and bloggers were encouraged by the Government to cover forced labour cases critically. The State Labour Inspectors have also started to investigate complaints about forced labour.

As a result of monitoring, administrative liability for forced labour was implemented against 259 people in 2019 (132 people during the cotton season), 103 people in 2020 (41 people during the cotton season), and 75 people in 2021 (5 people during the cotton season).

It should be noted that thanks to the strong political will of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, as well as the extensive work, carried out with the active participation of representatives of civil society together with the International Labour Organization and tripartite partners of the National Commission on Combating Forced Labour, such success has been achieved.

Touching upon the future plans, the International Labour Organization announced in Uzbekistan its final conclusion in 2021 that during the cotton harvest season, systematic child labour and forced labour were not used at all, as well as monitoring tasks in this direction was completely transferred to the Uzbek side.

Earlier, Uzbekistan’s achievements in ending forced labour 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 require consistent continuation of systematic work in the field.

Now it is necessary not only to combat forced labour 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 labour relations will not be ignored.

On June 25, 2020, a Global Report on Trafficking in Persons (which covers the situation in 192 countries) was published. During the Trafficking in Persons Report Launch Ceremony Mike Pompeo, the head of the State Department, highlighted in his speech the great efforts of Uzbekistan in solving this problem are setting a new standard for the countries of the region.

Despite the end of the boycott, Uzbekistan remained in TIER 2 in global reports such as “Global Report on Trafficking in Persons” (IS State Department) and “The Worst Forms of Child Labour” (US Department of Labour).

One of the main recommendations in these reports is to monitor the forced labour 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, and to pay attention to expanding cooperation between Uzbekistan and the International Labour Organization.

In September 2021, in cooperation with International Labour Organization Uzbekistan, Decent Work Country Programme for 2021-2025 was adopted.

The main focus of the programme is paid 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 Labour Organization, the analysis of working conditions in other sectors of the economy, as well as cases of forced labour are being studied.

According to a study conducted by the International Labour Organization in the field of silk in 2021, there are no cases of systematic involvement in forced labour 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 per cent 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 labour, will be a good source of information for the further development of effective policies in these sectors.

The author is Nozim Khusanov – Minister of Employment and Labour Relations
of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Combating Forced Labour

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