21 march 2018
Central Asia news: Cotton
The 2012 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan has concluded, and the system of forced labor of cotton production remained the same as in previous years. December 20, 2012, the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights and the Cotton Campaign released the Review of the 2012 Cotton Harvest, which explains that implementation of the forced labor system was carried out with a demographic shift to older children and more adults, accompanied with an unprecedented scale of corruption. The Review presents observations by human rights defenders throughout Uzbekistan, and highlights the following disturbing trends: continued forced child labor despite a demographic shift of the burden to older children, intensified forced labor of adults, continued rejection of independent monitoring, continued harassment of Uzbek citizens who attempted to monitor, and increased extraction of financial and other resources from Uzbek citizens by government authorities.
The Eighth International Uzbek Cotton and Textile Fair is taking place in Tashkent (Uzbekistan) on 17 to 18 October and Uzbekistan’s official media reports that it will be attended by world traders. According to the critics of Islam Karimov’s regime, which has been sending the republic’s unfortunate citizens to “help” the farmers since Soviet times, Western countries are gradually turning away from Uzbekistan’s “white gold” because of the use of forced child and teenage labourers.
In the mid of October the air temperature in the Republic of Karakalpakstan varies from +3 degrees in the night to +25 in the day. Under various temperatures the undersized cotton plant cracks down, forcing the cotton growers, especially kids, stay longer at the fields. Along with the employees of government-sponsored organizations they gather imponderable boxes (2-3 gram) every day. In order to gather one kilo of "white gold" they have to make at least 300 prehensile moves in the thorny bushes. At the same time, they eat third-rate macaronis.
Since September 20 the students of colleges and lyceums in Yangiyul rayon of the Tashkent Oblast in Uzbekistan have been working in the cotton fields. The local residents say that secondary school students in the remote villages of the same area also started the cotton season. Ferghana.Ru correspondents decided to learn more about the schoolchildren labor in harvesting raw cotton.
Few days ago the secondary school children in the Syr Darya Oblast of Uzbekistan flooded the cotton fields just as their counterparts in other regions. Unlike in the previous years, this year the local authorities officially instructed to attract only 14 plus kids, 7th graders, for cropping of "white gold". Nonetheless, as well as in the previous years, one can also see12-13 year old working children. Ferghana.Ru correspondent gave a visit to Syr Darya on Tuesday in order to witness the current events.
Classes were suspended in the Surkhandarja region of Uzbekistan with the onset of cotton-harvesting. Senior pupils work the plantations, picking cotton (that earns the Uzbek treasury so much) and thus "aiding" their native state. The Ferghana regional authorities on the other hand decided to do without compulsory child labor for a change. It seems that the government of Uzbekistan finally deigned to notice the pressure the international community has been applying to it.
Tajikistan is definitely a beautiful country, but its cotton picking policies leave an indelible black mark on its reputation. Cotton picking in this country is a dirty practice that enslaves students and restricts the growth of this majestic country. Due to the greed of a few rich cotton brokers, working for the local and national government, students are essentially forced to pick cotton for about two months every year.
The use of school-students to pick cotton further tarnishes the reputation of Islam Karimov's repressive state, says Andrew Stroehlein, media and information director at the International Crisis Group.
Just recently the Uzbek government vowed to combat the use of child labour on cotton fields. However, latest reports from Uzbekistan appear at odds with government’s intentions. In September Uzbek government has finally admitted child labour is used on cotton fields and promised to eradicate flagrant practices. However, Ferghana.ru correspondents from Uzbekistan say lots of children could be seen on the fields as harvesting has started.
As more international companies from Europe, US and Canada refuse to buy Uzbek cotton in boycott to forced child labour in cotton fields, Uzbek authorities, who have been fiercely denying children are being sent to the fields, seem now ready for dialogue over the issue. On August 18, four biggest groups representing the US retail and clothing industry called on Uzbekistan to end the widespread use of child labour in the harvesting of the country's cotton crop. The coalition urged President Islam Karimov to take "decisive and immediate actions to end the use of forced child labour in the cotton fields" in the world's second-largest cotton exporter.
As soil in the Kazakh southern region continues to deteriorate due to the widespread uncontrolled growth of cotton and the effect of the region’s hot weather in reducing available water, Kazakh cotton farmers face a serious dilemma as they must choose to either find new methods to grown cotton, a critical cash crop for export, or cease growing cotton and find a less water-demanding crop to replace it.
Administrators from the regional and local education departments with their subordinates spent this autumn picking cotton in the fields in the region near the Aral Sea. It is teachers and kindergartners who end up on harvesting duty now that the gathering is essentially over. All through October and early November, however, whole processions of coaches travelled from the regional center to the fields every morning - ferrying "volunteer" tutors and students.
A group of civil society activists from Uzbekistan call for a boycott of cotton produced by forced child labour in Uzbekistan. Unlike other developing countries, the child labour in the cotton sector of Uzbekistan is not the result of poverty or the illiteracy of the population; it is caused not by a willingness of children to help their parents, but rather is a result of deliberate coercion policy adopted by the central government.
Press Service of the Embassy of the Republic of Uzbekistan in Great Britain categorically denounces the use of children in agriculture. The denouncement became a response to the recent BBC program on the use of children in cotton picking in Uzbekistan. Embassy officials maintain that children were only used as cotton pickers in Uzbekistan 15 or 20 years ago, i.e. in essentially the Soviet era. The locals and journalists in the meantime argue that at least half a million children and teenagers work cotton plantations in Uzbekistan every autumn. Hypocrisy of Uzbek diplomats who would deny the obvious knows no limits. It is the only conclusion to be drawn from their assurances - given with a straight face - that "even fifteen-year-olds in Uzbekistan are employed only with a written permit from their families or foster parents."
Uzbekistan plans to cut down cotton hair export and make an emphasis on cotton processing domestically