UZBEKISTAN: Tier 2 Watch List
Uzbekistan is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and women and children subjected to sex trafficking. Uzbekistani women and children are subjected to sex trafficking in the Middle East, Eurasia, and Asia, and also internally in brothels, clubs, and private residences. Uzbekistani men, and to a lesser extent women, are subjected to forced labor in Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine in construction, oil, agricultural, retail, and food sectors. Internal trafficking is prevalent in the country. Government-compelled forced labor of adults remains endemic during the annual cotton harvest. In 2014, despite a central government-decree banning all participation of those under age 18 in the cotton harvest, local officials mobilized children in some districts. In addition, across much of the country, third-year college and lyceum students continued to be mobilized, an unknown number of whom were not yet 18 years old. Some independent observers alleged that the decreased use of child labor was counterbalanced by an increase in the government’s mobilization of adult forced labor to harvest cotton in 2014. There were limited reports that students, at certain institutions, faced the threat of suspension, expulsion, or other forms of harassment by school administrators and teachers if they refused to pick cotton. Some adults who refused to pick cotton, did not pay for a replacement worker, or who did not fulfill their daily quota may have been threatened with the loss of social benefits, termination of employment, and harassment. Private companies in some regions mobilized employees for the harvest under the implicit threat of increased government inspections and taxes. Some independent observers allege that some workers were injured or died, at least in part, due to harvest-related activities in 2014. There were also limited reports that, in some regions, teachers, students, private business employees, and others were at times forced by local officials to work in construction, agriculture, and cleaning parks.
The Government of Uzbekistan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government issued and publicized a decree prohibiting the forced labor of children under age 18 in the 2014 cotton harvest and fined college directors and farms for using child labor to pick cotton. In 2014, the government signed a Decent Work Country Programme agreement with ILO to develop national policies to support the government in its observance of ILO Conventions 182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour) and 105 (Abolition of Forced Labour). One component of the agreement authorizes ILO to perform a survey on recruitment practices and working conditions in agriculture, especially the cotton sector. The government also agreed with the World Bank and ILO to allow ILO to monitor the 2015-2017 cotton harvests for child and forced labor in five World Bank-funded project areas, which comprise approximately 60 percent of Uzbekistan’s cotton producing territory. Despite these efforts, serious concerns persist, as government-compelled forced labor of adults remained endemic in the 2014 cotton harvest. There were also reports that local government officials, under pressure to fulfill government-decreed cotton quotas, mobilized children in some districts of certain regions, in contravention of the government decree. The government also allegedly attempted to conceal possible labor violations in cotton fields by threatening and detaining at least two activists who were attempting to document them. Regarding protection efforts, the government continued to fund a trafficking rehabilitation center for men, women, and children and Uzbekistan’s diplomatic missions abroad helped repatriate 368 victims.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR UZBEKISTAN:
Continue substantive ongoing actions to eliminate forced child labor during the annual cotton harvest; take substantive action to end the use of forced adult labor during the annual cotton harvest; grant independent civil society groups full, unfettered access to monitor the annual cotton harvest; investigate and, when sufficient evidence exists, prosecute officials complicit in human trafficking, respecting due process; remove language in contracts that requires college students and state employees to participate in the cotton harvest; improve procedures for identifying trafficking victims to ensure they are systematic and proactive, and efficiently refer victims to protection services; promote awareness of labor rights, including in regard to the cotton harvest, and develop a transparent process for registering and investigating violations of those rights; cease harassment of activists for documenting labor conditions; take additional steps to ensure victims are not penalized for acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking, including for illegal border crossing; 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 demonstrated mixed law enforcement efforts; although it made efforts to combat sex and transnational labor trafficking, there was no similar effort to address government-compelled forced labor of adults in the cotton harvest and comprehensive enforcement of the decree prohibiting forced child labor lagged, as local officials in some districts mobilized children at the end of the 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. Uzbekistan’s law enforcement data are opaque and cannot be independently verified. In 2014, law enforcement agencies reported conducting 1,016 trafficking investigations, compared with 1,093 investigations in 2013. Authorities reported prosecuting 641 people and convicting 583 trafficking offenders in 2014, compared with 597 in 2013. The government reported 559 convicted offenders were sentenced to time in prison and 19 traffickers were sentenced to correctional labor, compared with 583 convicted offenders sentenced to time in prison in 2013. The government reported that of the 583 convicted and sentenced offenders, 130 subsequently received suspended sentences. In 2014, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) converted an existing law enforcement unit in Tashkent to an anti-trafficking section and increased the number of staff devoted to trafficking in each regional anti-trafficking unit.
Official complicity in human trafficking in the cotton harvest remained prevalent. Some adults who refused to pick cotton, pay for a replacement worker, or who did not fulfill their daily quotas may have been threatened with the loss of critical social benefits, termination of employment, and harassment. According to reports, some regional and local authorities applied varying amounts of pressure on government institutions, universities, and businesses to organize students, teachers, medical workers, government and military personnel, private sector employees, and local residents to pick cotton during the 2014 harvest. While there were limited reports of students who obtained exemptions from cotton harvesting by citing Uzbekistan-ratified ILO conventions, other students may have faced the threat of suspension, expulsion, or other forms of harassment by school administrators and teachers if they refused to pick cotton. 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 and university students sign contracts requiring their participation in the harvest as a condition of school enrollment. These contracts were used to legitimize the mobilization of public sector workers and university students for the cotton harvest. In some districts and cities, local officials pressured private companies to mobilize some of their employees for the harvest with an implicit threat of increased government inspections and taxes. Police threatened and detained at least two activists attempting to document labor violations in the cotton fields.
The government made efforts to identify, assist, and protect victims of sex and transnational labor trafficking, but demonstrated minimal efforts to assist victims of forced labor in the cotton harvest. In 2014, in observance of the application of the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention which Uzbekistan ratified in 1997, ILO began a survey, with government approval, on recruitment practices and working conditions in agriculture, especially the cotton sector. As the government did not openly acknowledge domestic forced labor of adults in the cotton sector, the identification of and assistance to such victims was stymied. The government reported it identified 1,208 trafficking victims in 2014, the majority of whom were subjected to forced labor, compared with 1,392 in 2013. Of these victims, 143 were exploited within the country, while the remaining victims were Uzbekistani citizens subjected to human trafficking in other countries. NGOs and an international organization identified and assisted 847 trafficking victims in 2014, compared with 451 in 2013. NGOs stated the increase reflected improved collaboration with officials who more consistently referred victims to NGOs.
ILO had neither the mandate nor funding to monitor the 2014 harvest, but provided technical support to the government’s monitoring mission. The government conducted monitoring through the creation of eight territorial monitoring groups consisting of government officials, NGO representatives, and the Federation of Trade Unions. These groups conducted 745 interviews across 172 rural regions, including visits to 316 vocational colleges and lyceums and 395 farms. Over the course of the monitoring period, the government reported 41 cases of children picking cotton alongside their parents, as compared with 53 cases of child labor identified during the 2013 harvest. Observers similarly reported a decrease in the number of children mobilized for the 2014 harvest. However, observers also documented local officials in some districts sending entire classes of 13- to17-year-olds to pick cotton towards the end of the harvest and confirmed at least one instance where two children were required to stay out of the cotton fields on a particular day to evade the government’s monitoring.
The government did not have a systematic process to proactively identify victims from vulnerable populations, including those subjected to internal trafficking, and refer those victims to protective services. Police, consular officials, and border guards referred potential trafficking victims who were returning from abroad to NGOs for services. Government-provided rehabilitation and protection services were contingent on victims receiving official “victim” status by filing a criminal complaint with the Inter-agency Commission to Combat Trafficking in Persons and the MOI’s affirmative decision to open an investigation into the case. Victims who cooperated with law enforcement were allowed to receive security, including escorts to and from trials, under the anti-trafficking law. NGOs reported officials were increasingly complying with legal requirements to maintain victim confidentiality.
The government continued to fund a trafficking rehabilitation center for men, women, and children, which assisted 369 victims in 2014; it included a 30-bed shelter and provided medical, psychological, legal, and job placement assistance. Victims could discharge themselves from the shelter. To remain at the shelter, however, victims had to obey rules, such as obtaining permission to leave, and adhere to a curfew. The government provided funding to local NGOs to conduct vocational trainings and provide health services for victims, in addition to tax benefits and the use of government-owned land. Victims were eligible for medical assistance from the government; in 2014, 898 victims received medical examinations and follow-up care. Uzbekistan’s diplomatic missions abroad helped repatriate 368 victims. While there were reports of potential transnational sex and labor trafficking victims facing criminal penalty of a substantial fine or imprisonment for illegally crossing the border, once victims were formally recognized as such, the law exempted them from prosecution for acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking. When such victims were nonetheless charged, NGOs reported success in having the charges dropped.
The government improved anti-trafficking prevention efforts. The government continued to implement its national action plan and wide-scale public awareness efforts on transnational sex and labor trafficking, including through events, print media, television, movies, and radio. The Coordination Council on Issues of Child Labor conducted a nationwide campaign about the illegality and risks of using child labor in the cotton harvest by posting bulletins and fliers in schools, colleges and lyceums, distribution of printed information on ILO Convention 182 to administrative officials throughout the country, and hosting roundtables and seminars on child labor. Despite these efforts, local officials in some districts violated the decree banning the use of child labor and mobilized children for the cotton harvest. Eleven professional college directors and two farms were fined for using child labor to pick cotton. The government reported farms paid the levied fines; however, it is unclear if the college directors similarly paid the fines. A limited number of students were able to successfully use a government regulation on the prohibition of the cotton harvest interfering with school work to receive an exemption from the harvest. With government approval, in 2014, the ILO began a survey on recruitment practices and working conditions in agriculture, especially the cotton sector. The government agreed with the World Bank and ILO to allow ILO to monitor the 2015-2017 cotton harvests for child and forced labor in five World Bank-funded project areas, which comprise approximately 60 percent of Uzbekistan’s cotton-producing territory. One of the projects includes a cotton harvest mechanization component, which will serve as a preliminary model for the government’s plan to increasingly mechanize the harvest and reduce some of the future demand for manual labor. The government also continued to obtain cotton harvesting machines and planned the allocation of the machines to the regions that are most susceptible to labor violations.
The government continued to provide NGOs venues for training programs and awareness-raising activities, as well as free billboard advertising space. The government did not conduct efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Uzbekistan was reportedly a destination country for Indian men engaging in sex tourism, including potential child sex tourism. The government provided anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel.