b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except as legal punishment for such offenses as robbery, fraud, or tax evasion, or as specified by law. Certain sections of the criminal code allow for compulsory labor as a punishment for offenses including defamation, and incitement of national, racial, ethnic, or religious enmity.
The government continued its efforts to combat all forms of forced labor. During the year the government informed the public of the prohibition against forced labor, including in the annual cotton harvest. Working closely with the ILO to raise awareness, the government erected 400 roadside billboards and distributed brochures, and oversaw a cotton harvest feedback mechanism that included telephone hotlines and online messaging applications dedicated to reporting labor violations. On September 5, the prime minister chaired a Cabinet of Ministers’ conference, also attended by ILO and media representatives, that served to operationalize the cabinet resolution passed on August 30, “On Measures of Conducting Organized Cotton Harvesting Works in 2018.” The prime minister underlined that the use of forced labor was absolutely forbidden during the cotton harvest and those responsible for forced labor would be punished.
During his visit to Syrdarya Region on April 13, President Mirziyoyev pledged to punish officials if they forced teachers, doctors, or students into cleaning roads or other places prior to presidential visits. This followed the death of a schoolteacher named Diana Enikeyeva in a roadside accident while undertaking compulsory street beautification activities. Meeting with Syrdarya regional activists, the President expressed regret regarding the death of Enikeyeva and emphasized that such instances of forced labor would be regarded as a betrayal of the “policy pursued by the head of the state.”
On April 19, the prime minister chaired a Cabinet of Ministers meeting on the prohibition of forcing students, medical workers, teachers and representatives of other social spheres, to undertake field and landscaping activities.
On May 10, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted a resolution forbidding teachers, medical worker, other public workers, and students from recruitment into compulsory labor activities such as landscaping of district and urban areas, seasonal agricultural work as well as metal scrap and waste paper collection. Also in May, the government established specific fines for illegally recruiting students and public workers to this unpaid work. Media reported isolated instances of forced labor compelled by local or regional authorities, including the Fergana regional governor’s order to all members of the Fergana Regional State Customs Committee to participate in public beautification projects. In June local media reported that police officers in Tashkent complained of being forced to clean streets.
While the government formally prohibited the use of forced labor in all sectors of the economy, this prohibition was inconsistently implemented at the local level and there were credible reports of isolated cases in which local or regional authorities compelled forced labor by adults in the cotton sector. The central government continued to impose cotton production quotas, which put pressure on local officials to ensure the quota was met. To incentivize cotton picking by the unemployed, the government raised the basic pay rate from 450 sums per kilo of cotton in 2017 to a range between 650 and 1,000 sums (between 7 and 12 cents) per kilo, depending on the different phases of the harvest. This approach was successful during the first 10 days of the harvest and there were few reports of forced labor. However, by the end of the harvest, pressure to meet the quota led local leaders in some locations to pressure teachers and other government workers to pick. The Uzbek German Forum reported that, on October 13,–late in the harvest–its monitors in seven of Uzbekistan’s 13 regions recorded “forced mobilization to pick cotton or the demand to pay for replacement workers.”
The government pursued complaints of forced labor, even those from independent observers, which resulted in administrative penalties for 169 local officials accused of forcing individuals to work. The government reported approximately 45 convictions for forced labor but did not provide sufficient information to determine if these crimes were related forced labor in the country or of a transnational nature. There were no criminal convictions of government officials for complicity in forced labor.
The government also allows the ILO access in real time to its feedback mechanism for reporting labor violations to see how it responded to complaints. The ILO calculated that the percentage of pickers forced to pick cotton fell from 12 percent in 2017 to 7 percent in 2018. Additionally, the government made important efforts to meet with international organizations, NGOs, civil society organizations, and local activists to discuss the issue of forced labor publicly and to receive feedback including suggestions and criticism to enable it to improve its approach to forced labor in the cotton harvest. The government acknowledged its problem with forced labor and sought assistance to eliminate it.
Local government-compelled forced labor existed in other sectors as well. Local officials forced civil servants and private businesses employees, and others to work in construction and other forms of noncotton agriculture, including to clean parks, streets, and buildings.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.