The government increased prevention efforts. The government took steps to modify its agricultural policies that created pressure for the government to force people to work, including by increasing wages to pickers to 144 percent above 2017 rates for the first pass, fulfilling its commitment to not mobilize students, and partially implementing its commitment not to mobilize teachers and medical workers. The 2018 harvest marked the fifth consecutive year the government conducted a nationwide campaign to raise public awareness of its prohibition of child labor in the cotton harvest. The government continued to uphold its ban against the use of child labor in the annual cotton harvest; children were virtually absent from the fields and there were no reports of systemic mobilization. The government, in coordination with the ILO, conducted an awareness-raising campaign to ensure all citizens were aware of their labor rights. The campaign featured more than 400 roadside billboards along major highways, and the distribution of brochures and posters to educational and health care facilities, as well as informative commercials on major television and radio networks. However, the central government continued to set cotton production quotas and demand farmers and local officials fulfill these state-assigned quotas, leading to the mobilization of adult forced labor. Farmers who were unable to fulfill their quotas risked losing the rights to farm their government-leased land. In addition to children, the central government emphasized the ban on mobilization of teachers and medical workers. NGOs reported that, for the first time, the government did not systemically mobilize health and education workers during the spring cotton fieldwork season, although limited reports of technical staff being in the field continued. The government previously coerced these employees to perform fieldwork without pay and under threat of penalty, including dismissal from their jobs. The government identified some instances of forced labor during the weeding and planting season, which resulted in formal reprimands to two regional governors. The ban on the use of these groups was successful for the first half of the harvest; during the first ten days of the harvest there were no reports of systemic mobilization. Observers credited the increased remuneration for attracting more voluntary pickers in the first weeks of the harvest, including a large number of otherwise unemployed pickers. After the first picking round of the harvest, voluntary laborers decreased, as cotton became less plentiful and the weather worsened; reports of forced labor, including of education and medical institution employees, increased. In order to fill the void left by education and health institution employees, the government increasingly mobilized other public employees, such as, among others, those at factories, grain mills, utility companies, banks, law enforcement agencies, and soldiers, as well as prisoners. Government officials instructed some forcibly mobilized pickers to lie about how they came to be in the fields. Local government officials in some areas required public sector employees to pick cotton, or pay for a replacement worker through an unregulated, informal system, creating a penalty for not participating in the forced labor system and a lucrative means of extortion for corrupt officials. In some cases, local governments pressured private businesses to provide pickers or pay fees to support the harvest, although it was not always clear if the fees funded payment of local administrative costs, or were a means of extortion. NGOs reported that many of the voluntary pickers preferred to be hired as replacement pickers by those seeking to avoid the cotton fields, which enabled them to earn income beyond the picking wages.
For a fourth consecutive year, the government agreed to allow the ILO to monitor the cotton harvest for child and forced labor, allowed ILO monitors unimpeded access to the cotton fields for observations and to interview laborers, and allowed the ILO to publish the results of a survey of the prevalence of child and forced labor during the 2018 harvest. The ILO assessed that approximately 170,000 pickers of an estimated 2.5 million member workforce were forced laborers; however, some experts believe this number was incomparable to previous years’ assessments due to significant changes in the ILO’s methodology. Some experts criticized the ILO’s new methodology and assessed that the ILO findings underestimated the level of forced labor in the harvest; however they generally agreed that the government was making concerted efforts to reduce forced labor. For the first time, the government granted the ILO access to data acquired through the government’s Cotton Harvest Feedback Mechanism—which included telephone hotlines and messaging apps dedicated to receiving reports of labor violations that received 2,006 complaints related to forced labor during the reporting period—and allowed the ILO to observe how it addressed such complaints. The government assigned 200 labor investigators across the country to look into reports of forced labor. The ILO reported that these complaints resulted in fines to 206 officials, but the government did not share additional details on the total number of fines levied, or total number of forced labor victims, including children, identified through this mechanism; compared to 2017, when 362 calls related to forced labor complaints resulted in the identification of 641 persons forced into the fields, including eight confirmed child labor cases, 42 lawsuits, 116 administrative citations, and fines totaling 220.5 million soum ($26,530). Observers reported concerns about the effectiveness of the feedback mechanism, stating that some pickers had concerns about reprisals or the effectiveness of investigations. Unlike previous years, the government included independent human rights activists in plans to monitor the harvest, conduct field interviews, participate in awareness raising activities, and review cases gathered through the Cotton Harvest Feedback Mechanism. Isolated reports of harassment and temporary detention of independent civil society monitors continued. Media, including state media outlets, continued to report on forced labor practices, problems, and violations without penalization or censorship.
The government continued to implement ILO recommendations, reduced land allocated for cotton cultivation, and worked toward the mechanization of the harvest. In addition to the three clusters piloted in 2017, in 2018, the government opened 13 private textile-cotton clusters—which processed cotton from cultivation to finished textile products. However, these private clusters were still subject to quotas set by the central government. Independent observers identified forced labor on cluster farm lands.
In an April 2018 public address, the President ordered an end to forced labor in public works projects, specifically of teachers, doctors, and students, noting that it betrayed the country’s path of reform. At a Cabinet of Ministers meeting in April, Ministers were encouraged to use a special fund under the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations to recruit unemployed individuals for public works, instead of compelling civil servants and students to perform public works. The government allocated 714 billion soum ($85.92 million) to this fund in 2018. In May 2018, the Cabinet of Ministers issued a decree on the eradication of forced labor, instructing government officials to immediately end all forms of compulsory labor of civil servants and students, encouraging Ministries to cooperate with civil society to monitor for abuses, and for the justice sector to ensure perpetrators are held accountable. NGOs reported the ban’s limited success; local governments continued to compel civil servants into forced labor in public works projects, including street sweeping, garbage collection, city greening and beautification work, and collection of scrap metal. An NGO reported that farmers continued to face silk cocoon production quotas; there were uncorroborated reports that school directors in Jizzakh and Syrdarya removed children from school and forced them to harvest silk cocoons. The government continued to call for hashar, or volunteer work days, throughout the country; some local leaders characterized cotton picking and street cleaning as hashar. NGOs reported that citizens felt they could not refuse to participate.
In September 2018, the Cabinet of Ministers passed a resolution providing additional support to labor migrants abroad, including victims of forced labor, and allocated a budget of 200 billion soum ($24.07 million) for assistance to labor migrants. The Uzbek Agency for Foreign Labor Migration continued outreach to prospective labor migrants, serving to reduce potential risks of trafficking among this population. The Agency conducted pre-departure consultations on labor and migration laws in the country of destination. The Agency opened a representative office in Gwangju, South Korea in September; more than 2,250 Uzbek citizens worked in South Korea under a bilateral temporary work agreement. The government reported 34 migrants used these centers before departures for work in Russia. In October 2018, the government signed an agreement with Russia on the organized recruitment of Uzbek citizens for temporary employment in Russia. The government also signed employment agreements with Turkey and Japan in 2018 and 2019. The government reported that 300 Uzbek citizens found temporary employment in Turkey. As of September 2018, private companies, including foreign and local, had official permission from the government to recruit Uzbek citizens for jobs abroad and within Uzbekistan. Although the companies were required to obtain licenses, the government did not report the number of licenses granted nor any monitoring of recruitment fees charged to job applicants.
Inspections only took place in response to complaints or following advance notice, limiting the inspectorate’s ability to identify active instances of forced labor. The labor inspectorate conducted 2,006 inspections in 2018; the inspectorate did not provide additional information on cases, or report screening for trafficking indicators, or referring for criminal investigation. The labor inspectorate is not empowered to bring criminal charges for first time violations of the law against forced labor.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs chaired an interagency counter-trafficking commission that analyzed the causes of trafficking in the country and worked to increase public awareness. A 2018 independent survey of human trafficking in Uzbekistan found that 76 percent of respondents believed victims were responsible for being trafficked. Authorities promoted wide-scale public awareness efforts on transnational sex and labor trafficking, including through events, print media, television, and radio, often through partnering with and providing in-kind support to NGOs. The interagency commission on combatting human trafficking maintained a 24-hour hotline; in 2018 the line received 511 phone calls, of which 72 were identified as trafficking victims. An NGO maintained a foreign donor-funded hotline. The NGO received 5,889 phone calls; among these calls were 198 allegations of human trafficking and 211 requests for repatriation. The organization facilitated the repatriation of 442 people and referred 457 assistance requests to law enforcement. The government did not conduct efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.