20 June 2019

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International relations
27 Mar  2019 919

The US Department of Labor lifts the ban on Uzbek cotton

According to the Uzbekistan Embassy in Washington, the US Department of Labor made the final decision to remove Uzbek cotton from the E.O. List – a list required by Executive Order No. 13126,  prohibiting US government procurement of goods manufactured using forced child labor.  

Cotton produced in Uzbekistan was included in the E.O. List in 2010. The US department at the end of July last year initiated an open public discussion of this issue. In its course, according to the US Department of Labor, the reports of the international coalition Cotton Campaign and the International Forum for the Rights of Workers (ILRF), as well as official comments submitted by the Uzbek diplomatic mission in Washington were deeply analyzed.  

“Department of Labor (DOL), in consultation and cooperation with the Department of State (DOS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)   have determined that the use of forced child labor in the cotton harvest in Uzbekistan has been significantly reduced to isolated incidents. As a result, this product no longer meets the criteria for inclusion in the E.O. List”, - notes the official statement.

“In 2010, when DOL added cotton from Uzbekistan to the E.O. List, forced child labor was pervasive in Uzbekistan's cotton sector. The Human Rights Report noted that between 2 and 19 percent of children participated in the cotton harvest, based on statistics available in 2006.  In contrast, during the 2017 harvest season, available reporting documented five cases of forced child labor” – the DOL official statement says.

It is mentioned that during a research trip to Uzbekistan in the spring of 2018, DOL found that, unlike previous years, upon receiving allegations of child labor from independent activists, the government made efforts to investigate and remediate such cases, and that at least three individuals were convicted  and 14 local officials were subjected to administrative penalties.

It is also noted that there are three monitoring mechanisms active during the cotton harvest  and multiple, active feedback mechanisms for worker complaints. Uzbekistan's Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations operates a hotlineand the Federation of Trade Unions operates legal clinics in each province to process labor complaints. Two World Bank projects have their own specific feedback mechanisms for participant concerns. In addition, the President of Uzbekistan in 2017 established a general hotline for members of the public to raise issues with the Uzbek government.

DOL report also mentions various efforts made to, in part, combat the forced labor of adults in the cotton sector, such as the mechanization of the cotton harvest, diversification of agricultural crops, increasing cotton pickers' wages by 40 percent or more, increasing the price of cotton so that farmers could hire voluntary workers, and government directives to strictly prosecute violators.

The decision of the US government to exclude cotton from this list allows any US government agency to purchase this product without requiring its certification (that the goods were produced without the use of child and forced labor). Also, according to representatives of the US Department of Labor, the withdrawal of Uzbek cotton from this list will provide an opportunity for private American companies to establish business relations with suppliers from Uzbekistan without fear of discrediting their business reputation. Thus, cotton producers in Uzbekistan open up new prospects for full-fledged access to US markets.

Earlier in September last year, the US Department of Labor removed cotton from Uzbekistan from the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.

This also supplemented a series of other decisions, in particular, on raising the level of Uzbekistan from the 3rd category to the 2nd in the US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, as well as improving the country's position in the previous DOL Report On The Worst Forms Of Child Labor.

These decisions testify to the recognition by the United States of measures taken in Uzbekistan to improve the human rights situation.

It should be noted that these decisions of the US government correspond to the findings and results of monitoring by the International Labor Organization and the World Bank, the press service of the Uzbekistan MFA notes.

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