In the Khorezm region of Uzbekistan alone, the authorities are planning to send 170,000 schoolchildren to the cotton harvest – and there is documentary evidence
Every year during the cotton harvest season, the Uzbek authorities turn a significant part of the population – students, schoolchildren, civil servants, workers, even housewives and pregnant women -- into slaves. They have various means of coercing the population into this employ, but there is a special role played by the prosecutor office and the police.
In the middle of September 2011, we received a copy of a document which demonstrates the wide-scale involvement of the state apparatus in the coercion and repression used to conduct the cotton campaign. This is a press-release prepared by the Interior Ministry of Khorezm region (full text and translation is in the appendix). This kind of press release is distributed among the local mass media and participants of the staff meetings which take place nearly every evening at the provincial and district authorities over the course of the cotton harvest season.
The document clearly mentions the centralized mobilization of students and children to pick cotton:
«In order to have a quality harvest, in the 2011 harvest, we will have a short time frame to mobilize cotton - pickers, a total of 202,641 people, including 34,800 students from colleges, and high schools. 463 temporary residencies (302 field barracks – shipona), 109 houses of citizens, 52 tents, etc., have been prepared for their accommodation».
What does this figure of 202,641 people mean? If there are 34,800 college students, then it turns out that the remaining 167,841 are mostly schoolchildren. Taking into account that the population of Khoresm constitutes 6% of all 13 cotton cultivating regions of Uzbekistan, one can extrapolate with sufficient certainty, the number of schoolchildren mobilized to pick cotton each in the entire country. This number, according to our calculations, is 2,797,350 persons, or at the very least, two and a half million children.
The subjects of this forced labor are not only schoolchildren and students, but the farmers themselves. Criminal proceedings are brought against those who plant anything other than cotton in their fields, such as more profitable crops, or those who allow livestock to graze in their fields. Two typical details from the press release of the Ministry of Internal Affairs:
1) «As a result of measures taken by law enforcement bodies, we have identified 230 cases of rice cultivation without permission, and among them 222 cases at farms and 8 cases of partial allotments, a total of 941 hectares.. According to these facts, materials were prepared and brought to the courts to take action in accordance with the law».
2) «…June 2, 2011 in the village Boshkirshik, Yangibazar district, in the cotton field at the “Istikbol” farm, owned by Atadjanov Saparboy (date of birth: 09/30/1956), one cow trampled down 293 cotton bushes on a 95.4 square kilometer area». For information, the cow belonged to the same farmer. For this «offence» his cow was confiscated, slaughtered, and the meat was passed on to other agencies
This document demonstrates that: the Government of Uzbekistan does not intend to change anything in the command economy taking root in the cotton industry, with its usual practice of mass forced labor sent to pick cotton each autumn. The ratification by the government of Uzbekistan of the International Labor Organization Conventions 138 and 182 on child labor, and the adoption of several laws to protect children’s rights, seems to be designed just to mislead the international community, without any intention to implement in practice.
It is not surprising therefore that the Government of Uzbekistan does not allow an ILO mission to visit the country during the cotton harvesting season to conduct an independent observation.
In our view, the only way to persuade the Uzbek government to stop the Stalinesque practice of forced labor – is to conduct a boycott of its cotton and textiles.
We call upon the European Parliament not to approve the protocol on preferential export for Uzbek textiles to Europe and to annul the Generalized System of Preferences for Uzbek cotton and textiles.