Uzbekistan is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Internal trafficking is prevalent in the country. Government-compelled forced labor of men, women, and children remains endemic during the annual cotton harvest. There were reports that teachers, students (including children), employees in private businesses, and others were forced by the government to work in construction, agriculture, and cleaning parks. In September and October 2013, for the first time, the Government of Uzbekistan cooperated with the ILO to monitor the cotton harvest for compliance with the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182). The ILO monitoring team—accompanied by government officials—verified 53 cases in violation of this Convention. The ILO concluded that it “appears to the Mission that forced child labour has not been used on a systematic basis in Uzbekistan to harvest cotton in 2013.”
There were reports that some children aged 15 to 17 faced expulsion from school for refusing to pick cotton. There were additional reports that some government employees may have faced termination, and business owners faced financial pressure to require employees to pick cotton or pay for others to replace them in the fields. There were reports of injuries and several deaths connected to the 2013 cotton harvest; for instance, a man was beaten by a government official and died the next day of a heart attack, a farmer committed suicide after a government official threatened him with imprisonment for not meeting a government-imposed quota, and a child died of electrocution after accidentally touching a live wire as she participated in the cotton harvest. Uzbekistani women and children are subjected to sex trafficking in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, India, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Greece, Turkey, Thailand, Israel, Iran, Malaysia, South Korea, Pakistan, Japan, China, Indonesia, and also internally. Uzbekistani men and women are subjected to forced labor in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Russia, the UAE, Malaysia, and, to a lesser extent, Ukraine in domestic service, agriculture, and the construction and oil industries.
The Government of Uzbekistan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. Government-compelled forced labor occurred during the cotton harvest, when authorities applied varying amounts of pressure on many governmental institutions, businesses, and educational institutions to organize college and lyceum students (15- to 18-year-old students completing the last three years of their secondary education), teachers, medical workers, government personnel, military personnel, and nonworking segments of the population to pick cotton in many parts of the country. For the second year in a row, the government forbade the mobilization of children under 15 and effectively enforced this decree. Allowing the ILO to monitor the cotton harvest under the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (182) was an encouraging step by the government. ILO and government monitors verified 53 cases of child labor during the cotton harvest. Additional progress on forced labor and forced child labor was more limited. Media continued to report a widespread mobilization in the cotton harvest in 2013. The government characterized the use of children under age 18 as sporadic and privately organized; however, the government, which has a centralized structure, reportedly punished mayors and governors for falling short of cotton production quotas. Several media outlets reported that government officials instructed Uzbekistanis to tell foreigners, if asked, that they were picking cotton of their own accord, although other observers heard reports of cotton harvesting mobilization practices from the workers themselves. There were isolated reports of attempted concealment of forced labor, including officials filling empty high school classrooms with younger students as ILO monitors approached. Law enforcement detained a journalist for 12 days after he sent photographs of the cotton harvest to an activist group. The government applied pressure in the form of legal and financial audits to foreign-funded NGOs during the reporting period; one anti- trafficking NGO was forced to temporarily suspend some of its activities when foreign funding was delayed. The government continued to address transnational sex and labor trafficking, implementing awareness campaigns about the dangers of trafficking. It operated a shelter to assist victims of both sex and labor trafficking and worked to strengthen its ties with NGOs to repatriate victims and provide services.
Recommendations for Uzbekistan:
Take substantive action to end the use of forced adult labor and increase action to end child labor during the annual cotton harvest; grant the ILO, its affiliated bodies, and civil society groups full, unfettered access to the annual cotton harvest; ensure full compliance with both the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (182) and the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (105); continue permitting the stable foreign funding of NGOs including anti-trafficking NGOs; investigate and, when sufficient evidence exists, prosecute government officials who violate national and international labor laws, respecting due process; refrain from including language in contracts that require college students to participate in the cotton harvest; promote awareness of labor rights and develop a transparent process for registering and investigating violations of those rights; refrain from restricting repatriated trafficking victims from future travel; improve methods of identifying trafficking victims and people vulnerable to trafficking, including labor migrants and women in prostitution; improve screening of vulnerable populations to prevent unidentified victims from being punished for acts committed as a result of being trafficked; develop formal procedures to identify trafficking victims and refer them to protection services; continue to provide in-kind support to anti-trafficking NGOs to assist and shelter victims; and continue efforts to investigate and prosecute suspected trafficking offenders, respecting due process.
The Government of Uzbekistan demonstrated mixed law enforcement efforts; although it made efforts to combat sex and transnational labor trafficking, there was no similar effort to address the forced labor of adults or children aged 16 to 18 in the cotton harvest. Article 135 of the criminal code prohibits both forced prostitution and forced labor and prescribes penalties of three to 12 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Uzbekistani law enforcement data are opaque and unable to be independently verified. In 2013, law enforcement agencies reported conducting 1,093 trafficking investigations, compared with 1,013 investigations in 2012. Authorities reported prosecuting 517 trafficking cases in 2013, compared with 531 in 2012, and reported that 597 people were convicted on trafficking-related offenses in 2013, compared with 626 in 2012. The government reported that 583 convicted offenders were sentenced to time in prison and 16 traffickers were sentenced to correctional labor, compared with 357 convicted offenders sentenced to time in prison in 2012. The government reported that eight farms received penalties for using child labor to pick cotton and three received warnings. The ILO and the government jointly trained Ministry of Labor and Social Protection labor inspectors, as well as other officials, on Uzbekistan’s obligations under ratified ILO conventions.
Government officials’ complicity in human trafficking in the cotton harvest remained prevalent. There continued to be reports that adults who did not make their quotas were subjected to ridicule or abuse by local administrators or police. Regional and local authorities applied varying amounts of pressure on government institutions, universities, and businesses to organize high school and university students, teachers, medical workers, government personnel, military personnel, private sector employees, people who allegedly committed moving vehicle violations, and local residents to pick cotton in the 2013 cotton harvest. State employees, including teachers and hospital workers, are bound by a clause in their collective bargaining agreement to be transferred elsewhere for up to 60 days each year; this clause was used to legitimize the mobilization of public sector workers for the cotton harvest. There were several reports of children and adults subjected to physical abuse and threatened with retaliation—such as expulsion from school, loss of student housing, termination of employment, or denial of critical social benefits—if they refused to pick cotton, and authorities threatened some families who protested with police visits. The government exerted pressure on private companies to mobilize their employees for the harvest and threatened private sector workers with “taxes” and fines to compel their service. Officials reportedly instructed Uzbekistanis to tell foreigners, if asked, that they were picking cotton of their own accord, although other observers heard reports of cotton harvesting mobilization practices from the workers themselves. Experts reported that officials previously falsified or sold travel documents or exit visas, but claim this practice significantly decreased as awareness of trafficking increased among law enforcement officials.
The Government of Uzbekistan convicted critics of the regime on trafficking charges; in at least one case, the charges appeared to be unsubstantiated. In September 2013, the government convicted a human rights leader to four years’ imprisonment for allegedly forcing a woman into prostitution.
The Government of Uzbekistan demonstrated mixed efforts to identify, assist, and protect victims of trafficking—including efforts to assist victims of sex and international labor trafficking—and demonstrated minimal efforts to assist victims of forced labor in the cotton harvest. NGOs not affiliated with the government faced additional scrutiny in 2013, especially those receiving funds from abroad, hampering efforts to protect victims. The government does not openly acknowledge that domestic forced labor of children or adults in the cotton sector is a problem. It stated, however, that 25 children identified from the ILO monitoring of the cotton harvest received unspecified assistance.
The government did not have a systematic process to proactively identify victims and refer those victims to protective services. The government reported it recognized 1,392 people as trafficking victims in 2013, compared with 1,647 in 2012. Of these victims, 125 were exploited within the country, while the remaining victims were Uzbekistani citizens subjected to human trafficking in other countries. An international organization assisted 451 trafficking victims in 2013.
Police, consular officials, and border guards were trained to refer potential female trafficking victims returning from abroad to NGOs for services; an observer reported that repatriated victims were blacklisted from future travel. Government-provided protection services were contingent on victims assisting in investigations.
The government funded a trafficking rehabilitation center for men, women, and children that assisted 338 victims during the reporting period; it included a 30-bed shelter, nurses, a psychologist, a lawyer, and a social worker to assist victims; a sports and recreational facility was added in 2013. A minimal amount of financial assistance was also given to minors during repatriation. Victims were allowed to leave government-funded shelters, although a code of conduct forbids overnight leaves. The government did not provide direct funding to NGOs providing services to trafficking victims, but it did provide office space, venues for training programs and awareness-raising activities, as well as living and work space and free medical care for victims. Trafficking victims were eligible for medical assistance from the government; in 2013, 924 received medical examinations and follow-up care. Uzbekistani diplomatic missions abroad helped repatriate 380 victims. An NGO reported that police, consular officials, and border guards frequently referred women returning from abroad who appeared to be trafficking victims to them for services.
There were reports that potential transnational sex and labor trafficking victims who had illegally crossed the Uzbekistani border faced a criminal penalty of a substantial fine and imprisonment. Formally recognized victims were exempt by law from prosecution for acts committed as a result of being trafficked. When victims were nonetheless charged, NGOs reported success in having charges dropped. NGOs reported that victims who cooperated with law enforcement received protection, and that officials were increasingly complying with legal requirements to maintain victim confidentiality; assistance was not dependent on whether victims chose to cooperate in legal proceedings against their traffickers.
The government improved anti-trafficking prevention efforts. It continued public awareness efforts on transnational sex and labor trafficking, but did not adequately inform parents and their children about Uzbekistani laws banning the use of children under 18 years of age in the annual cotton harvest. Some parents reportedly filed successful complaints with the government, although others were unsuccessful. The government demonstrated further willingness to comply with the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention by creating the Coordination Council on the Elimination of Child Labor, which acted as an interlocutor with the ILO. The ILO reported that government officials accompanying the monitoring teams complied with their requests and appeared to be surprised to find cases of child labor in the cotton harvest. In 2013, the government instituted a consultative council, as part of its National Action Plan, on prohibition of the worst forms of child labor, under the purview of the Commission of Minors in the Cabinet of Ministers; however, local officials in at least two areas did not comply with a decree banning the use of labor by school children up to 15 years of age in the cotton harvest. The National Interagency Commission to Counteract Trafficking provided high-level, high-visibility coordination of anti-trafficking efforts and was chaired by the Prosecutor General. The bodies responsible for addressing forced labor issues included the Ministry of Labor, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Ministry of Education (monitoring and enforcing school attendance), and local commissions dealing with minors.
The government continued to provide venues for NGO training programs and awareness-raising activities, as well as free billboard advertising space. Ostensibly in an effort to combat human trafficking, the government required male relatives of women aged 18 to 35 departing the country to submit a statement pledging that their female relatives would not engage in illegal behavior, including prostitution, while abroad. The government did not conduct efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Uzbekistan was reportedly a destination country for men from India engaging in sex tourism, including potential child sex tourism. The government provided training to its diplomatic staff posted abroad, and has written guidance to prevent its nationals posted abroad from engaging in or facilitating trafficking.