14 Feb 2018 14:07

Uzbekistan stops systematically employing children in cotton harvest - ILO

TASHKENT. Feb 14 (Interfax) - Uzbekistan has made significant progress toward ending the use of child and forced labor in harvesting cotton, the International Labor Organization (ILO) said in a report to the World Bank.

"The systematic use of child labor in Uzbekistan's cotton harvest has come to an end, and [...] concrete measures to stop the use of forced labor have been taken," the ILO report, which is available on the organization's website, said.

The report, "Third party monitoring of measures against child labor and forced labor during the 2017 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan," is based on more than 3,000 unaccompanied and unannounced interviews with a representative sample of 2.6 million cotton pickers.

"The 2017 cotton harvest took place in the context of increased transparency and dialogue. This has encompassed all groups of civil society, including critical voices of individual activists. This is an encouraging sign for the future," the report quoted Beate Andrees, Chief of the ILO's Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work Branch, as saying.

An overwhelming majority of the 2.6 million cotton pickers who took part in the 2017 harvest did so voluntarily, and there was a high level of awareness in the country about the unacceptability of both child and forced labor, the report said.

"The report confirms earlier findings that the systematic use of child labor in the cotton harvest has ended, though continued vigilance is required to ensure that children are in school," it said.

Cotton pickers' wages in Uzbekistan have increased in line with ILO and World Bank recommendations, and the ILO recommends that the government continue to increase wages and address working conditions more broadly to attract voluntary pickers, the report said.

The ILO will focus its monitoring efforts in Uzbekistan on the remaining challenges, "particularly the need for further awareness raising and capacity building, which varies between provinces and districts."

"It will ensure that all those involved in recruitment will have the information and tools needed to ensure that cotton pickers are engaged in conformity with international labor standards," the report said.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly session in New York in September 2017, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev vowed to put an end to forced labor in his country and reaffirmed his government's commitment to cooperation with the ILO.

The ILO has monitored the cotton harvest in Uzbekistan for child labor since 2013. In 2015, it began monitoring the harvest for forced labor and child labor as part of an agreement with the World Bank.