Uzbekistan is a populous double land-locked country in the middle of Central Asia with an emerging lower-middle income economy. State-owned enterprises still dominate its industrial and financial sectors, and foreign trade centers on commodities. The declared goal of its current economic policy is to achieve sustainable growth and overcome underemployment and poverty as soon as possible. Fast growing external public debt limits the availability of public funds and loans to support economic growth, so attraction of private and foreign investment (FDI) has become a vital priority. Five years ago, the Government of Uzbekistan (GOU) launched a program of radical market reforms, with a focus on improving the business environment. Notable progress has been made so far in addressing a rage of systemic business regulation problems and overcoming the dominance of state monopolies, but more is yet to be done to completely unlock all benefits of FDI for the economy.
Uzbekistan has the potential to become a strong regional economy: a dynamic and entrepreneurial population, the largest in Central Asia; relatively good infrastructure; and a large potential consumer market. In the past, most FDI was directed into the oil, gas, and mining sectors. In recent years, however, there has been a trend towards increasing FDI in manufacturing, production and distribution of electricity, tourism, and banking. Such diversification was facilitated by positive changes in state regulation and the beginning of a privatization program. Further advancing privatization, as well as implementation of a long-expected capital market development policy, may create unique investment opportunities.
Over the past five years, the GOU has made efforts to improve the investment attractiveness of the country. The GOU has modernized its legislation through the adoption of the Law on Investments and Investment Activities and other acts that streamlined interactions of investors with the state, reduced the tax load, liberalized access to certain commodities, and started the privatization of major state-owned enterprises. As a result, the inflow of FDI has grown from about $2 billion in 2017 to over $8 billion in 2021.
The government’s efforts to attract funding for various development and social support programs contributed to sustained economic growth despite severe quarantine restrictions in 2020. With the removal of major pandemic restrictions in 2021, GDP grew 7.4 percent. Notable progress has been made in development of renewable energy capacity. Uzbekistan already attracted FDI to develop nearly 4,000 MW of solar and wind capacity and plans to build another 4,000 MW in generation capacity by 2026, which will increase the share of renewables to 25 percent and displace 3 billion cubic meters of natural gas usage annually. The GOU’s current environmental policy goal is to achieve a 35 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP from 2010 levels by 2030.
At the same time, the GOU still attempts to channel foreign investments into predetermined import-substituting or export-oriented projects. In some cases, transparency is sacrificed for the urgency of investment. Pandemic-related challenges and the subsequent disruption of global of supply chains have slowed the progress of liberalization reforms because the GOU expanded the use of direct administrative control methods. Another restraining factor is the lack of experience among middle and lower-level government officials in working transparently and properly enforcing legislation that protects the rights of entrepreneurs.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2021||140 of 180||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|Global Innovation Index||2021||86 of 132||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2020||$90 million||https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.html#345|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2020||$1,740||https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
3. Legal Regime
4. Industrial Policies
6. Financial Sector
8. Responsible Business Conduct
There is no legislation on responsible business conduct (RBC) in Uzbekistan, and the concept has not been widely adopted, though many companies are active in charitable and corporate social responsibility activities, either through their own initiative or because they were mandated by local government officials.
Historically, the level of forced labor involved in the annual cotton harvest (September – November) was high, as citizens were pressed into service in the fields to meet government targets for cotton production. However, much has changed since President Mirziyoyev took office and the GOU has reversed course and worked hard to eradicate forced labor from the harvest and move away from Soviet-era cotton production targets. The International Labor Organization (ILO) coordinated Third-Party Monitoring and observed a sharp decrease in forced labor during the 2021 cotton harvest.
Efforts to eliminate trafficking in persons and forced labor leaped forward with the government’s February 2020 decision to end the state quota system for cotton. Dismantling the complex quota system required further development of the cluster system, first introduced in 2018 as a means to reduce forced labor. By the end of 2021, more than 96 clusters (privately operated, vertically integrated, cotton textile producing enterprises, including those with foreign capital) were registered in Uzbekistan and the percentage of land cultivated by or on behalf of private businesses grew considerably. With increased privatization of cotton production, the government ceded decisions about labor to private businesses.
Relevant government agencies and departments inspect both newly registering and operating local businesses and enterprises for enforcement of the Labor Code in respect to labor and employment rights; the Law on Protection of Consumer’s Rights for consumer protections; and the Law on Protection of Nature for environmental protections. Labor or environmental laws and regulations are not waived for enterprises with private and foreign investments.
Legislation, including the Law on Joint-Stock Companies and Protection of Shareholder’s Rights, issued in 1996 and last updated in 2018, sets a range of standards to protect the interests of minority shareholders. In 2018, the GOU approved corporate governance rules for SOEs. Their introduction is in progress.
The Law on the Securities Market requires businesses that issue securities (except government securities) to publish annual reports, which should include a summary of business activities for the previous year, financial statements with a copy of an independent audit, and material facts on the activities of the issuer during the corresponding period.
There are no independent NGOs, investment funds, worker organizations/unions, or business associations promoting or monitoring RBC in Uzbekistan. Some international organizations, like the Asian Development Bank, provide technical and advisory assistance to the government and local enterprises.
Uzbekistan adopted its Corporate Governance Code in 2015 as a voluntary requirement. The same year, the GOU set corporate governance requirements for joint-stock companies (Decree UP-4720).
At present, Uzbekistan does not adhere to the OECD guidelines regarding responsible supply chains of minerals from conflict-afflicted and high-risk areas, and there has been no substantial evidence to suggest the government encourages foreign and local businesses to follow generally accepted CSR principles such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Uzbekistan does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).
Uzbekistan’s legislation prohibits the private security industry or use of private security companies within the country.
Uzbekistan’s legislation and Criminal Code both prohibit corruption. President Mirziyoyev has declared combatting widespread corruption one of his top priorities. On January 3, 2017, he approved the Law on Combating Corruption. The law is intended to raise the efficiency of anti-corruption measures through the consolidation of efforts of government bodies and civil society in preventing and combating cases of corruption, attempted corruption, and conflict of interest, ensuring punishment for such crimes. On June 29, 2020, Presidential Decree UP-4761 created an Anti-Corruption Agency. Subordinate to the president and reporting to Parliament, the agency is responsible for developing and implementing state policy to prevent and combat corruption. On July 6, 2021, Presidential Decree UP-6257 approved 2021-2022 State Anti-Corruption program, which includes a range of measures to ensure the transparency of the government and tighten criminal liability for violators. This program complements the strategy adopted in 2019. Its goals are to strengthen the independence of the judiciary system, develop a fair and transparent public service system requiring civil servants to declare their incomes, establish mechanisms to prevent conflicts of interest, and facilitate civil society and media participation in combating corruption.
Along with the Anti-Corruption Committee, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Uzbekistan (PGO) is the government arm tasked with fighting corruption. Since Mirziyoyev took office in September 2016, the number of officials prosecuted under anti-corruption laws has increased. According to official statistics, over 9,000 corruption-related crimes were registered in 2017-2020. In 2021, Uzbekistani law enforcement agencies initiated 2,345 corruption related criminal cases and prosecuted 2,804 government officials, including 16 central, 241 regional and 2,547 local government officials. By preliminary assessments, the damage caused by budget embezzlement and corruption crimes in 2021 exceeded $90 million. Punishment has varied from fines to imprisonment with confiscation of property. Despite more active criminal prosecution of corrupt officials, however, fundamental reforms to eliminate the prerequisites for such offenses again showed no progress – the adoption of the Law on State Civil Service, which was first drafted 25 years ago, is still on hold.
Formally, the anti-corruption legislation extends to all government officials, their family members, and members of all political parties of the country. From January 1, 2022, Uzbekistan introduces a system of mandatory declaration of income and property for all civil servants, heads and deputies of state-owned enterprises and institutions (entities with state ownership share over 50%), as well as for their spouses and minor children.
In recent years, the GOU has demonstrated efforts to improve the legal framework of awarding contracts and procedures for public procurement. To reduce corruption, the new legal framework provides for the introduction of more transparent electronic bidding systems. The new Law on Natural Resources (ZRU-403 of June 23, 2020), in combination with the Law on Production Sharing Agreements, the Law on Concessions, and various Government Resolutions specify procedures for awarding natural resource extraction contracts and licenses. The most recent Public Procurement Law (ZRU-684, adopted April 22, 2021, effective January 1, 2022) streamlines relevant procedures and requirements. According to the legislation, public procurement or a natural resource extraction contract/license can be awarded through an open auction through E-IJRO AUKSION electronic auction platform, or by decision of the government. In the latter case, the legislation lacks details on actual application procedures and the government’s decision-making process. While enforcement of the new legislation is still at early stage, the process of awarding GOU contracts continues to lack transparency.
The Law on Combating Corruption (ZRU-419, adopted January 3, 2017, last updated November 19, 2021) prescribes a range of measures for preventing corruption, including raising public awareness and introducing transparent rules for public-private interactions. According to the law, all public officials are obliged to notify their supervisors or law enforcement agencies of all cases of proposed corruption from businesses or individuals, as well as any similar offenses committed by other public service employees. The law, however, does not specifically encourage companies to establish relevant internal codes of conduct.
Currently only a few local companies created by or with foreign investors have effective internal ethics programs.
Uzbekistan is a member of the OECD Anti-Corruption Network (ACN) for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. One of the latest OECD reports on anti-corruption reforms in Uzbekistan (March 21, 2019) says that, although Uzbekistan has already undertaken a number of key anti-corruption reforms, the GOU now needs to systematize its anti-corruption policy by making it strategic in nature.
The Law on Combating Corruption encourages more active involvement of NGOs and civil society in investigation and prevention of crimes related with corruption. However, there are still very few officially registered local anti-corruption NGOs. One of them – Transparency Uzbekistan – was registered in September 2021. Embassy Tashkent is not aware of any active corruption investigations conducted by local NGOs. There is evidence of unjust persecution of local civil society activists who are fighting corruption.
Corruption is still a notable factor in the economy and social sphere of Uzbekistan due to the insufficiency of law enforcement practices and relatively low wages in the public sector. Recognizing the issue, the country’s leadership has initiated legislative and institutional reforms, which has already raised Uzbekistan’s rating in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index from 157 (out of 180 rated countries) in 2017 to 140 in 2021. U.S. businesses have cited corruption and lack of transparency in bureaucratic processes, including public procurements and licensing, as among the main obstacles to foreign direct investment in Uzbekistan.
10. Political and Security Environment
Uzbekistan does not have a history of politically motivated violence or civil disturbance. There have not been any examples of damage to projects or installations over the past ten years. Uzbekistani authorities maintain a high level of alert and aggressive security measures to thwart terrorist attacks. The environment in Uzbekistan is not growing increasingly politicized or insecure.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
During 2020, the population of Uzbekistan increased by 712,363 people (2.3%) to 35,271,276. The gender distribution is roughly equal: 17.5 million men and 17.4 million women. According to publicly available statistics, about 30% of the population is under 16 years old; 60% is working age (16-60); and 10% is 60 years old and older. Uzbekistan’s State Statistics Agency reports indicate the total number of laborers, as of January 1, 2022, was 19.3 million people (a 1% increase year-on-year). Nearly 12 million of them were considered employed. The share of the non-agricultural workforce is about 73%. There are about three million Uzbekistani citizens who work abroad as labor migrants. The official number of unemployed is over 1.4 million people, or 9.5%. Note: The accuracy of given statistics is based on records of the residents’ registration offices and studies conducted by the Ministry of Labor but does not always reflect the actual situation in the country. The next national census in Uzbekistan is expected in 2023, while the last one was in 1989. End note.
It is relatively easy to find qualified employees in Uzbekistan, and salaries are low by Western standards. According to both government and independent analysts’ statistics, about 9-12% of the population live below the poverty level (on poverty ratio applicable for lower middle-income countries, or $3.20 a day based on purchasing-power-parity in constant prices of 2011), and approximately 48% of the employed population have low-productivity and low-income jobs. Accordingly, Uzbekistan is one of the largest suppliers of labor migrants among former Soviet Union republics.
Independent consultants estimated Uzbekistan’s informal economy at 48-62% of GDP, or up to $40 billion. The number of unofficially employed people is close to 6 million. There is no clear line between formal and informal economies, as many companies practice double bookkeeping to avoid some tax liabilities. In addition to clearly criminal activities, the share of which is relatively insignificant, “grey economy” businesses may be observed in various sectors, including trade, financial services, construction, home-based manufacturing, and transportation. The GOU recognizes the scale of the problem. A strategy to combat the informal economy was adopted in 2020 and expanded in 2021. The main rules for ensuring business legality came into force in January 1, 2022. Their ill-conceived and brutal introduction, especially in the field of tax administration, caused shock and confusion, especially among small businesses. As a result of intense public debate, the government had to postpone their enforcement. In general, businesses in the informal economy have been the main violators of intellectual property rights, and the main suppliers of counterfeit products that created marketing difficulties for U.S. and other foreign business.
At 99%, literacy is nearly universal, but most local technical and managerial training does not meet international business standards. Foreign firms report that younger Uzbekistanis are more flexible in adapting to changing international business practices but are also less educated than their Soviet-trained elders. Widespread corruption in the education sector has lowered educational standards as unqualified students purchase grades and even admittance to prestigious universities and lyceums.
Legislation requires companies to hire Uzbekistani nationals for specified positions in banking and auditing companies. The chief accountant must be an Uzbekistani national, as should either the CEO or any one member of the board of directors. Only Uzbekistani nationals can be tour guides. Businesses registered within special economic and industrial zones must have at least 90% locally sourced labor force.
According to Uzbekistan’s Labor Code, labor-management relations should be formalized in a fixed-term or temporary employment contract. The maximum length of a single fixed-term contract is 60 months ( ). The Labor Code and subordinate labor legislation differentiate between layoffs and firing. Employees can terminate their employment by filing written notice two-weeks prior or applying for leave without pay. Layoffs or temporary leave without pay can be initiated by an employer if the economic situation declines. For firing (severance), the employer should personally give two months’ advance notice in the case of corporate liquidation or optimization, two weeks’ advance notice in the case of an employee’s incompetence, and three days’ advance notice in the case of an employee’s malpractice or unacceptable violations. In case of severance caused by corporate liquidation or optimization, an employee should receive compensation, which should not be less than two average monthly salaries paid during their employment plus payment for unused leave (if another form of compensation was not agreed to in the employment contract). In reality, however, many businesses choose to avoid signing formal contracts with employees, especially those involved in seasonal agricultural or construction work.
Officially, labor legislation cannot be waived or applied differently for private or foreign-owned enterprises, including those that operate in special economic and industrial zones. On March 4, 2020, Uzbekistan joined the Hague Conference on Private International Law.
The new Law on Trade Unions (ZRU-588) was adopted in December 2019. According to this law, all trade union activities should be based on the principles of the compliance, voluntariness, non-discrimination, independence and self-governance, equality, transparency and openness. The law guarantees rights of trade unions and their associations and protects them from illegal interventions of government agencies, officials and employers. Currently, the Board of the Federation of Trade Unions of Uzbekistan incorporates 37,659 primary organizations and 14 regional trade unions, with official reports of 6.1 million employees in the country participating. These trade unions are all government owned and operated, including the Federation of Trade Unions.
By law, all employees of either local or foreign-owned enterprises operating in Uzbekistan have the right to:
- fair and timely payment of wages that should not be less than the minimum monthly salary amounts set by the government;
- a standard workweek of forty hours, with a mandatory rest period of twenty-four hours and annual leave;
- overtime compensation as specified in employment contracts or agreed to with an employee’s trade union, which can be implemented in the form of additional pay or leave. The law states that overtime compensation should not be less than 200% of the employee’s average monthly salary rate (broken down by hours worked). Additional leave time should not be less than the length of actual overtime work;
- working conditions that meet occupational health and safety standards prescribed by legislation;
- compensation of any health or property damages incurred as a result of professional duties through an employer’s fault;
- professional training;
- formation and joining of labor unions;
- pensions; and
- legal support in protection of workers’ rights.
There is no single state institution responsible for labor arbitration. The general court system, where civil and criminal cases are tried, is responsible for resolving labor-related disputes. This can be done on a regional or city level. Formally, workers can file their complaints through the Prosecutor General’s Office. The Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations should provide legal support to employees in their labor disputes.
The law neither provides for nor prohibits the right to strike. In recent years, SOE employees in the mining and petrochemical industries and workers involved in various public projects conducted strikes, protesting against salary payment delays and demanding improvement of their working conditions. Reportedly, ministerial and local government officials met with strike initiators and promised to resolve issues raised by the workers. There is no public information about the role of official unions in these negotiations.
Although employees in Uzbekistan enjoy many rights by law, in practice these laws are subject to arbitrary and inconsistent interpretation. For example, the law prohibits compulsory overtime – and only 120 hours of overtime per year is permitted. In practice, overtime limitations are not widely observed, and compensation is rarely paid. Wage violations have become more common in recent years.
18 conventions and one Protocol of the UN’s International Labor Organization (ILO) are officially in force in Uzbekistan:
- Forced Labor Convention;
- Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention
- Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention;
- Equal Remuneration Convention;
- Abolition of Forced Labor Convention;
- Discrimination [Employment and Occupation] Convention;
- Minimum Age Convention;
- Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention;
- Labor Inspection Convention;
- Employment Policy Convention;
- Labor Inspection (agriculture) Convention;
- Tripartite Consultation (International Labor Standards) Convention;
- Forty-Hour Week Convention;
- Holidays with Pay Convention;
- Maternity Protection Convention [Revised];
- Workers’ Representatives Convention;
- Collective Bargaining Convention;
- Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187); and
- Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labor Convention.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children, except as legal punishment for offenses such as robbery, fraud, or tax evasion, or as specified by law. Uzbekistan has eliminated the systematic use of child labor in the annual cotton harvest and has implemented reforms to significantly improve its record on adult forced labor. Despite strong political will in the central government to eradicate adult forced labor, at the local level its use in the cotton harvest is still reported, albeit in steadily decreasing numbers. The Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations establishes and enforces occupational health and safety standards. Labor inspectors conduct routine inspections of small and medium-sized businesses once every four years and inspect larger enterprises once every three years. The labor inspectorate – significantly expanded in size — was previously unable to conduct unscheduled inspections, but these are now legal and in regular use.
In 2021, Uzbekistan adopted and enacted several labor related laws and regulations, including:
- The Law on Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (New York, December 13, 2006) (ZRU-695, adopted June 7, 2021). By this law, Uzbekistan recognizes the right of persons with disabilities to work on an equal basis with others, including the right to the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labor market and work environment that is open, inclusive, and accessible to persons with disabilities.
- The Law on Ratification of the ILO Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 No. 187 (ZRU-693, adopted June 4, 2021). By this law, Uzbekistan became committed to the continuous improvement of occupational safety and health through the development of a national programs for the prevention of occupational diseases, occupational injuries, and fatalities.
- The Law on Amendments to the Law on the Protection of the Health of Citizens and the Labor Code (ZRU-705, adopted August 2, 2021). The law introduces amendments related with mandatory vaccination requirements in cases of pandemic threats, as well as the possibility of suspension of employment in case of employee’s refusal from mandatory vaccination.
- The Law on the Legal Status of Foreign and Stateless Persons (ZRU-692, adopted June 4, 2021). The law guarantees the rights of foreign citizens and stateless persons to have employment, social security, health care, education, etc.
- The Law on Employment of the Population (ZRU-642, adopted October 20, 2020, entered into force January 21, 2021). This law applies to citizens of Uzbekistan, foreign citizens, and individuals without citizenship, as well as foreign citizens permanently residing or employed in the country. The law obliges government bodies to pursue a policy of developing the labor market and ensuring employment, developing family entrepreneurship, handicrafts, agricultural production on personal subsidiary plots, and home-based employment. The law establishes the status of a self-employed person, the procedure for their taxation, and their rights to have benefits. The law also specifies the rights of unemployed people.
- The Law on Persons with Disabilities (ZRU-641, adopted October 15, 2020, entered into force January 16, 2021). The law defines the rights of persons with disabilities, and stipulates issues of their education, vocational training, advanced training, and employment.