Uzbekistan: Forced Labor Widespread in Cotton Harvest

More Adults, Older Children Required to Work, Abuses Persist

(Berlin, January 26, 2013) – Uzbek authorities have increased the use of forced labor by adults and older children in the cotton sector during the past year, Human Rights Watch said today. The move was apparently made to shift the burden away from younger children in response to public scrutiny and international pressure.

For the 2012 harvest, the Uzbek government forced over a million of its own citizens, children and adults – including its teachers, doctors, and nurses – to harvest cotton in abusive conditions on threat of punishment, Human Rights Watch found. The authorities harassed local activists and journalists who tried to report on the issue. In 2011, Uzbekistan was the world’s fifth largest exporter of cotton.

“The issue here is forced labor, plain and simple” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Forcing more older children and adults to work in the cotton fields to replace some younger children, does not change the fact that Uzbekistan is forcing a million of its people to labor in these fields involuntarily every year at harvest season.”

Photographs

  • Child picking cotton in September 2012, Suyima Pakhtakor, Jizzakh.
    © 2012 Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights

  • Defoliants sprayed while workers harvest cotton nearby.
    © 2012 Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights

  • Students, ages 16-18, from the transportation college of Tashkent sent to pick cotton in the Komil district of Jizzakh province, playing volleyball in front of the barracks where they will stay until their quota is fully harvested. Refusing participation is not an option; students are threatened with expulsion from school.
    © 2012 Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights

  • A typical barracks adjacent to the cotton fields where adults and children live during the cotton harvest. Workers sleep on the floors and in many cases do not have access to potable water.
    © 2012 Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights