UZBEKISTAN: Tier 3
Uzbekistan is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and women and children subjected to sex trafficking. Uzbek women and children are subjected to sex trafficking in the Middle East, Eurasia, and Asia, and also internally in brothels, clubs, and private residences. Uzbek men, and to a lesser extent women, are subjected to forced labor in Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine in the 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. Some adults who refuse to pick cotton, do not pay for a replacement worker, or do not fulfill their daily quota might have been threatened with, or faced the loss of, social benefits, termination of employment, or harassment. Private companies in some regions mobilized employees for the harvest under threat of increased government inspections of and taxes on their operations. An independent observer alleged several workers were injured and at least one died, due at least in part to harvest-related activities in 2015. There were isolated reports of some local officials mobilizing classes of students aged 14 to 16 years in the final weeks of the harvest in contravention of the central government’s prohibition on child labor. Mobilizations of university and third-year college and lyceum (equivalent to a U.S. high school) students, who tend to be 18 years old but include some 17 year olds, continued to be endemic. There are reports some officials required state employees and adult students to sign labor agreements or statements that they would pick cotton voluntarily. Independent observers asserted that forced mobilization of adult workers increased in 2015 to compensate for the loss of underage workers. Local officials used forced adult labor, including employees of schools and medical facilities, for weeding cotton fields. There were also isolated reports stating local officials forced teachers, students (including children), private business employees, and others to work in construction, non-cotton agriculture, and the silk industry, as well as to clean parks, streets, and buildings. Authorities harassed, detained, and, in some cases, abused independent activists attempting to observe the spring weeding season and the fall harvest, and at least two activists faced criminal charges, potentially as retaliation for attempting to document labor violations in the cotton fields.
The Government of Uzbekistan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. Government-compelled forced labor of adults remained endemic in the 2015 cotton harvest. The central government continued to demand farmers and local officials fulfill state-assigned cotton production quotas and set insufficiently low prices for cotton and labor to attract voluntary workers, which led to the wide-scale mobilizations of adult laborers and a smaller number of child laborers. The government also increased its attempts to conceal possible labor violations in cotton fields by aggressively confronting, harassing, and detaining independent monitors attempting to observe and document the harvest. However, the government took a number of steps this year regarding the cotton harvest. The government continued to collaborate with ILO and fulfilled its agreement with the World Bank and ILO to allow ILO officials to conduct a labor recruitment survey under the Decent Work Country Program and, separately, monitor the 2015 harvest for risks of child and forced labor in 11 of Uzbekistan’s 14 regions, comprising 60 percent of Uzbekistan’s cotton producing territory. For the fifth consecutive year, Uzbekistan reduced its use of child labor, largely, effectively enforcing its decree prohibiting the participation of children younger than age 18 in the harvest. The 2015 cotton harvest marked the second year the government conducted a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of the prohibition of child labor in the cotton harvest, and the first time the government included anti-forced labor messaging in the campaign. Further, the government enacted a national action plan aimed at ending forced labor that it developed in consultation with the World Bank and ILO. It has already identified sources of funding for the various steps in this plan. Separately, the government committed to keep college and lyceum students (equivalent to a U.S. high school) out of the 2016 cotton harvest, including those aged 18. On transnational trafficking, authorities continued to prosecute suspected traffickers and continued to fund a rehabilitation center for trafficking victims. The government also provided trafficking-specific training to police, judges, and other authorities. Uzbek authorities collaborated with foreign governments on several transnational investigations in 2015.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR UZBEKISTAN:
Take substantive action to end the use of forced adult labor during the annual cotton harvest; continue substantive actions to eliminate forced child labor from the annual cotton harvest; grant independent observers full access to monitor cotton cultivation and cease harassment, detention, and abuse of activists for documenting labor conditions; begin implementing the national action plan for improving labor conditions in the agricultural sector to reduce pressure for farmers and officials to compulsorily mobilize labor for the cotton harvest; implement commitments to not mobilize teachers, medical workers, and college and lyceum students; increase investigations and, when sufficient evidence exists, prosecute officials complicit in human trafficking, respecting due process; provide adequate mechanisms to enable students and state employees to refuse to participate in the cotton harvest without the threat of coercion; enhance and continue promoting awareness of labor rights, including in regard to the cotton harvest; improve processes for registering and investigating violations of labor rights; provide additional support to anti-trafficking NGOs assisting and sheltering victims who were not admitted to the state-run shelter; 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 improve procedures for identifying trafficking victims to ensure they are systematic and proactive, and efficiently refer victims to protection services; and continue efforts to investigate and prosecute suspected trafficking offenders, respecting due process.
The government maintained strong law enforcement efforts against sex and transnational labor trafficking. Article 135 of the criminal code prohibits both sex trafficking and forced labor, prescribing penalties of three to 12 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Uzbekistan provided law enforcement data regarding investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and sentences of trafficking and crimes related to trafficking. Authorities reported conducting 696 investigations and prosecuting 372 cases for crimes related to trafficking in 2015. Authorities reported convicting 460 people for crimes related to trafficking in 2015, a decrease from 583 in 2014. The government reported 442 convictions carried a prison sentence, and 15 carried a sentence of correctional labor; it was unknown how many of these sentences were suspended. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) maintained an investigatory unit dedicated to trafficking crimes. The government provided trafficking-specific training to police, judges, and other authorities. Uzbek authorities collaborated with foreign governments on several transnational investigations in 2015. Despite evidence of official complicity in the cotton harvest and other sectors with forced labor, the government did not report any criminal investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses this year, but did fine seven officials for forced labor violations, which were administrative.
The government made efforts to identify, assist, and protect victims of sex and transnational labor trafficking, but demonstrated limited efforts to assist victims of forced labor in the cotton harvest. The government identified 924 victims of trafficking-related crimes in 2015, a decrease from 1,208 in 2014. Of these 924 victims, 140 were exploited within the country, while the remaining victims were Uzbek citizens exploited in other countries. NGOs and an international organization identified and assisted 774 trafficking victims in 2015, compared with 847 in 2014. Uzbekistan’s diplomatic missions abroad helped repatriate 146 victims by issuing travel documents. The government lacked a systematic process for proactive identification of victims from vulnerable populations, including those subjected to internal trafficking, and to refer those victims to protective services. Police, consular officials, and border guards who were able to identify potential trafficking victims could refer them to a state-run shelter or NGOs for services. To be eligible to receive government-provided rehabilitation and protection services, victims must file a criminal complaint with the authorities in their community of origin, after which the MOI can decide to initiate an investigation and grant official “victim” status to the individual. NGOs reported good cooperation in referring cases to the MOI that led to investigations and victim certification.
The government allocated approximately 459 million soum ($160,700) to operate its Tashkent-based trafficking rehabilitation center for men, women, and children with official victim status, which assisted 503 victims in 2015, an increase from 369 in 2014. This center provided shelter, medical, psychological, legal, and job placement assistance. Victims could discharge themselves from the shelter, though, at times, authorities required victims to stay to assist a criminal case. The center could accommodate foreign victims, but has not done so since the shelter opened. The center has not accommodated a victim of sex trafficking since 2011. Officials reported some faraway regions did not refer victims to the shelter due to transportation costs, which were the responsibility of local neighborhood councils. In addition to the shelter, authorities provided security to victims cooperating with law enforcement, including escort to and from trials. 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. These NGO services were critical because officials referred sex trafficking victims to them, as well as victims who did not wish to pursue a criminal case and were thereby ineligible to access the state-run shelter. Transnational sex and labor trafficking victims could face a criminal penalty for illegally crossing the border, but NGOs reported authorities dropped these charges when NGOs proved victimhood to the authorities. Victims were not permitted to provide testimony via video or written statements, nor were their identities kept confidential during proceedings. Victims lacked an effective mechanism to receive restitution from their traffickers; victims could bring civil suits against traffickers, but most could not afford legal representation.
The government did not take sufficient steps to modify the agricultural policies that create pressure for the use of mobilized labor, including production quotas and low wages for pickers. In December 2015, the government committed to reduce the total acreage for cotton production by about 13 percent by 2020, and in January 2016 the government introduced a national action plan that included agricultural reforms towards eliminating forced labor. The 2015 harvest also marked the second consecutive year the government conducted a nationwide campaign to raise public awareness of its prohibition of child labor in the cotton harvest, and, for the first time, the government included anti-forced labor messaging in the campaign. Labor inspectors fined seven officials for using child labor to pick cotton; the government did not specifically report filing criminal charges against officials to deter such conduct. Further, the central government continued to demand farmers and local officials fulfill state-assigned cotton production quotas, which likely led to the wide-scale mobilized adult labor and isolated incidents of child labor.
In 2015, the government pledged not to mobilize teachers and medical workers for the cotton harvest; however, this was not fulfilled. The government stated its intention to increase the availability of mechanized harvesters, but such plans continued to be stymied by financial hurdles and farmers’ preference for manual labor. In March 2016, the government pledged not to mobilize third-year college and lyceum students who are generally 18 years of age, but can be 17. With government approval, in 2015, ILO conducted a qualitative survey on recruitment practices in agriculture, which detailed the risks of forced labor, particularly in the quota system and large-scale recruitment for the cotton harvest. In addition, the government fulfilled its agreement with the World Bank and ILO to allow ILO to monitor the 2015-2017 cotton harvests for child and forced labor in regions in which World Bank-funded projects were underway—this area comprised approximately 60 percent of Uzbekistan’s cotton-producing territory. In collaboration with the World Bank and ILO, the government established two feedback mechanisms for citizens to report labor violations. The government reported it provided redress in seven cases of unpaid wages affecting 250 people. Independent observers reported the associated call centers were not always accessible and national security services threatened several individuals who provided information to the hotlines with intimidation and pay-cuts if they reported additional violations. In January 2016, the government approved an action plan on labor conditions in the agricultural sector for 2016-2018, which aimed to strengthen labor inspections and the feedback mechanisms for citizens reporting labor violations, develop a methodology for identifying the minimum quantity of workers and wages needed for farms, and prepare a feasibility study for liberalizing cotton production, among other items.
The government continued to implement its 2015-2016 national action plan to combat transnational trafficking through its national network of anti-trafficking coordination commissions. The national government conducted monitoring visits and provided training to local-level commissions. 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 government did not conduct efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.