UZBEKISTAN: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Uzbekistan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government made key achievements during the reporting period; therefore Uzbekistan was upgraded to Tier 2 Watch List. These achievements included taking substantive actions towards ending the use of forced adult labor during the annual cotton harvest by increasing remuneration to pickers and cotton procurement prices; demobilizing students and, to a lesser extent, partially demobilizing some in other government-directed labor sectors; allowing full unimpeded access to international third-party monitors; and engaging in dialogue with activists and treating them in a more humane manner. At the highest levels, the government publically acknowledged as a problem forced labor in the cotton harvest. The government conducted a substantial campaign to raise awareness of the prohibition against child labor in the harvest for a fourth year, and reports of children being mobilized were extremely limited. Despite these achievements, government-compelled forced labor remained during the 2017 cotton harvest; approximately 336,000 pickers of an estimated 2.6 million workforce were forced laborers. The government did not consistently implement its ban on the mobilization of public sector employees. It demonstrated decreased efforts in victim identification, as well as the investigation and prosecution of suspected traffickers.

Continue substantive actions to end the use of forced adult labor, including during the annual cotton harvest, through such measures as eliminating cotton production quotas and increasing remuneration and improving working conditions for workers in the cotton harvest; fully implement commitments to neither mobilize teachers, medical workers, and college and lyceum students in forced labor, nor require them to pay for replacement pickers; provide adequate mechanisms to enable all citizens to refuse to participate in the cotton harvest or other work outside their professional duties without suffering consequences; respecting due process, increase investigations and, when sufficient evidence exists, criminally prosecute officials complicit in human trafficking, including officials involved in mobilizing forced labor; improve procedures for identifying trafficking victims to ensure they are systematic and proactive; continue efforts to investigate and prosecute suspected traffickers, respecting due process; continue granting independent observers full access to monitor cotton cultivation and fully cease harassment, detention, and abuse of activists for documenting labor conditions, and investigate, and, when sufficient evidence exists, criminally prosecute persons complicit in human trafficking identified by observers; continue implementing the national action plan for improving labor conditions in the agricultural sector; continue to modify agricultural policies to reduce pressure for farmers and officials to compulsorily mobilize labor for the cotton harvest; continue promoting awareness of labor rights, including in regard to the cotton harvest; continue improving processes for registering and investigating violations of labor rights; fund anti-trafficking NGOs assisting and sheltering victims who were not admitted to the state-run shelter; develop formal mechanisms to ensure victims are not penalized for acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking, including for illegal border crossing and losing personal identification documents; and amend the criminal code to protect the identities of trafficking victims and encourage prosecutors to proactively seek victim restitution in criminal cases.

The government decreased law enforcement efforts. Article 135 of the criminal code criminalized labor and sex trafficking and prescribed penalties of three to five years imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. For the fourth year in a row, investigations, prosecutions, and convictions declined. The government conducted 609 investigations, including 204 cases of sexual exploitation and 32 cases of labor exploitation, and prosecuted 314 cases for crimes related to trafficking in 2017, compared to 651 investigations and 361 prosecutions in 2016 and 696 investigations and 372 prosecutions in 2015. Authorities reported convicting 405 people for crimes related to trafficking in 2017, compared to 451 in 2016. The government reported that 204 of the crimes investigated in 2017 were related to sexual exploitation. The government did not provide sufficient detail to determine if the reported statistics related to trafficking or sexual exploitation met the definition of trafficking under the TVPA. The government reported convicting 391 perpetrators under article 135, including 33 recruiters; 233 convictions carried a prison sentence, 81 carried conditional sentences, 57 carried limitation of freedom, three carried a sentence of correctional labor, two were required to pay fines, and 15 individuals were granted amnesty.

The Ministry of Interior (MOI) maintained an investigatory unit dedicated to trafficking crimes. The government provided trafficking-specific training to police, judges, and other authorities. In addition to attending state-funded training, government officials participated in seminars and conferences sponsored by the government and taught by NGOs, international organizations, and foreign governments. Despite official complicity in the cotton harvest and other sectors with forced labor, the government did not report any criminal investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses during the reporting period. It reported issuing administrative fines to 14 officials in 2017, compared to nine in 2016, for forced labor violations; the government levied administrative penalties also in Andijon region, in spite of the public promise made by the regional Hokim to criminally prosecute senior officials complicit in the recruitment of teachers, school and college students, as well as workers of medical institutions. For the first time, the government initiated investigations into allegations of forced labor when reported by activists.

The government decreased efforts to identify, assist, and protect victims of sex and transnational labor trafficking, and it made limited efforts to assist victims of forced labor in the cotton harvest or other internal sectors. The government identified 440 victims of trafficking-related crimes in 2017, a decrease from 714 in 2016 and 924 in 2015. Media reported that 47 percent of the government-assisted victims were women and 53 percent were men. The government did not provide details on how many of these victims endured exploitation in Uzbekistan. The government did not identify any victims of foreign origin and reported that the majority of identified victims were subjected to sex trafficking abroad. NGOs and an international organization identified and assisted 676 trafficking victims in 2017 (327 in 2016 and 774 in 2015), the vast majority of which were subjected to labor exploitation abroad. Uzbekistan’s diplomatic missions abroad helped repatriate 40 victims, a decrease from 109 victims in 2016, by issuing travel documents, and worked with IOM to provide food, clothing, and transportation to victims to facilitate their repatriation to Uzbekistan. The government lacked a standardized process to proactively identify victims from vulnerable populations and refer those victims to protective services, especially those subjected to internal trafficking, which led to the penalization of potential victims, particularly those in prostitution. Police, consular officials, and border guards who were able to identify potential trafficking victims could refer them to either a state-run shelter or NGOs for services. To be eligible to receive government-provided rehabilitation and protection services, the government required victims to file a criminal complaint with the authorities in their community of origin, after which the MOI had to decide whether or not to initiate an investigation and grant official victim status to the individual. As a result, NGOs reported local officials regularly referred victims who did not wish to pursue a criminal case to NGO offices for assistance.

The government allocated approximately 540 million soum ($67,250), an increase from 496 million soum (approximately $61,770) in 2016, to operate its Tashkent-based trafficking rehabilitation center for men, women, and children with official victim status. The government did not provide definitive data on the number of victims assisted at this facility in 2017, compared to 460 victims in 2016. This center provided shelter, medical, psychological, legal, and job placement assistance. Victims could discharge themselves from the shelter, although in previous years, authorities at times required victims to stay to assist a criminal case. The center had the capacity to accommodate foreign victims, but there have been no foreign victims in the shelter since its opening. The government provided funding to local NGOs to conduct vocational trainings and provide health services for victims, in addition to according them tax benefits and the use of government-owned land. These NGOs provided critical services because officials referred victims of sex trafficking to them, and those who did not wish to pursue a criminal case and were therefore ineligible to access the state-run shelter. The law does not exempt transnational sex and labor trafficking victims from facing a criminal penalty for illegally crossing the border. NGOs reported authorities dropped these charges when NGOs proved to authorities the victims were subjected to human trafficking. NGOs also noted that MOI officials increasingly complied with legal requirements to maintain victim confidentiality; however, victims’ identities were not kept confidential during court proceedings. Victims could bring civil suits against traffickers, but the government did not provide legal representation for victims, and most victims could not afford legal representation on their own; despite the absence of an effective mechanism to seek restitution from their traffickers, one trafficking victim received court ordered restitution in 2017.

The government increased prevention efforts. The government took steps to modify agricultural policies that created pressure for the use of forced labor, including by increasing wages to pickers, increasing cotton purchasing prices to farmers, and beginning implementation of its commitment not to mobilize teachers, medical workers, and college and lyceum students. The 2017 harvest marked the fourth consecutive year the government conducted a nationwide campaign to raise public awareness of its prohibition of child labor in the cotton harvest. International observers and Uzbek activists acknowledged the government’s eradication of systemic child labor, including systemic compelled child labor, although anecdotal reports of forced child labor continued in a limited number of instances. The government, in coordination with the ILO, conducted an awareness raising campaign to ensure all citizens were aware of their labor rights. The campaign featured over 400 roadside banners along major highways, and the distribution of brochures and posters to educational and health care facilities, as well as informative commercials on major television and radio networks. However, the central government continued to demand farmers and local officials fulfill state-assigned cotton production quotas, leading to the mobilization of adult forced labor; the ILO estimated that of the workforce of approximately 2.6 million, at least 336,000 were forced or coerced to work. Farmers who were unable to fulfill their quotas risked losing the rights to farm their government leased land; there was at least one report of this occurring during the reporting period. Although teachers, students, and medical workers were initially mobilized, the government did implement a recall of these groups from the cotton fields in the early stages of the harvest in September 2017. The ban on these pickers was unevenly implemented, with reports that some public sector employees returned to the fields within weeks of the demobilization. According to observers, the 2017 harvest saw an unprecedented increase in the coercion of public sector employees to pick cotton, or pay for a replacement worker, creating a penalty for not participating in the forced labor system. Officials required, and in some cases compelled, state employees and adult students to sign labor agreements or statements that they would pick cotton voluntarily. Independent observers asserted that public employees were instructed to tell monitors that they were unemployed. “Cotton command units,” led by local government officials, personally visited households of unemployed people or the homes of individuals who did not show up in the fields in order to ensure their mobilization.

For a third consecutive year, the government agreed to allow the ILO to monitor the cotton harvest for child and forced labor, allowed ILO monitors access to the cotton fields accompanied by government monitors, and allowed the ILO to publish the results of a survey of the prevalence of child and forced labor during the 2017 harvest. ILO monitors were granted unimpeded access to interview laborers, unlike in previous years. Although, as in previous years, a government official accompanied ILO monitors to field observations, the official was not privy to the observation location before the monitoring team arrived at the destination, and did not observe or participate in the interviews. The official’s participation served largely to ensure access to the fields if local officials questioned the ILO’s presence. The government continued to publicize its Cotton Harvest Feedback Mechanism, which included telephone hotlines and messaging apps dedicated to receiving reports of labor violations, receiving over 7,300 inquiries and complaints, 121 of which were related to labor rights during the cotton harvest. Of the complaints received, 36 were related to forced labor and eight resulted in the discovery of confirmed child labor cases. Government officials identified 641 persons forced into the fields, opened 42 lawsuits, issued 116 administrative citations, and issued fines totaling 220.5 million soum ($27,460) as a result of information received through the feedback mechanism. Observers reported concerns about the effectiveness of the feedback mechanism, stating that some pickers had concerns about reprisals or the effectiveness of investigations. Although activists reported less physical abuse and decreased harassment as compared to previous years, temporary detentions, surveillance, and some harassment continued. For the first time, in 2017 the government investigated forced labor cases identified by activists, resulting in administrative penalties for local officials. Media reported on forced labor practices for the first time; bloggers who highlighted forced labor problems were not penalized or censored. Some state media outlets featured audio or video recordings of public officials encouraging civil servants to participate in the cotton harvest, which publicly shamed the officials and increased labor rights awareness.

The government slightly reduced the area of land available for the cultivation of cotton and increased its capacity for mechanization by continuing to develop appropriate cotton cultivars and by training farmers on mechanization. The government continued several projects aimed at modernization of the cotton industry, including a five-year partnership on agricultural reform with the World Bank, which included measures to prevent forced labor; a four year Decent Work Country Program extension to improve employment opportunities, working conditions and social protections; and began implementation of pilot projects with the International Finance Corporation and private companies to work on mechanization and responsibly cultivated cotton. Additionally, the government implemented ILO recommendations, such as increasing both remuneration to pickers and purchasing prices available to farmers.

The Uzbek Agency for Foreign Labor Migration increased outreach to prospective labor migrants, serving to reduce potential risks of trafficking among this population. The Agency conducted pre-departure consultations on labor and migration laws in the country of destination. The government reported 34 migrants used these centers before departures for work in Russia. The government also signed agreements with Russia, Japan, and Poland in 2017 to establish centers for training workers for jobs in these countries. A representative Russian Ministry of Interior office opened in Samarkand in November 2017. Media reports indicate that 12 Uzbek citizens found employment in Poland through the agreement.

The national government conducted monitoring visits and provided training to a national network of local-level commissions. Authorities promoted wide-scale public awareness efforts on transnational sex and labor trafficking, including through events, print media, television, and radio, often through partnering with and providing in-kind support to NGOs. The government maintained several hotlines in addition to the cotton harvest feedback mechanism—one of which provided free legal advice; in 2017 the lines received 125 requests related to migration and human trafficking. An NGO maintained a foreign donor-funded hotline. The NGO received 2,879 phone calls; among these calls were 224 allegations of human trafficking and 712 requests for repatriation. The organization accepted 70 repatriation requests by trafficking victims and assisted a total of 205 people. The government prohibited the participation of educational institutions in scrap metal collection. The government did not conduct efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

As reported over the past five years, Uzbekistan is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and women and children subjected to sex trafficking. The ILO and observers noted that the systemic mobilization of child labor was eliminated, although there were anecdotal reports of the use of child labor in some areas. Government-compelled forced labor of adults, including employees of schools and medical facilities, remained during the fall cotton harvest, and spring planting and weeding. During the 2017 cotton harvest, approximately 336,000 pickers of an estimated 2.6 million workforce were forced laborers. Despite its August decree banning mobilization of certain sectors, the government initially mobilized those under the age of 18, as well as employees in educational and medical sectors, university students, teachers, and medical workers for the 2017 cotton harvest. It unevenly implemented its September 2017 directive recalling employees of schools and medical facilities, as well as university students, from the cotton fields. International reports indicate some adults who refuse to pick cotton, do not pay for a replacement worker, or do not fulfill their daily quota can face the loss of social benefits, termination of employment, or other forms of harassment. According to some observers, the 2017 harvest saw an increase in the coercion of public sector employees, creating a penalty for not participating in the forced labor system. Private companies in some regions mobilized employees for the harvest under threat of increased government inspections of and taxes on their operations. There were reports of employees of such companies being fired for not participating in the 2017 harvest. Independent harvest monitors noted that the government’s demobilization of lyceum and university students was largely successful.

Government-compelled forced labor of adults remained in other sectors as well. There were isolated reports stating that local officials forced farmers to cultivate silk cocoons and, separately, that local officials forced teachers, students (including children), private businesses employees, and others to work in construction and other forms of non-cotton agriculture and to clean parks, streets, and buildings. During the 2017 harvest, the government continued to arrest independent activists attempting to observe the spring weeding and the fall harvest, though at decreased intervals and without reports of extreme abuses, as compared to previous years.

Uzbek women and children were subjected to sex trafficking in the Middle East, Eurasia, and Asia, and also internally in brothels, clubs, and private residences. Uzbek men, and to a lesser extent women, were subjected to forced labor in Kazakhstan, Russia, Moldova, Turkey, and in other Asian, Middle Eastern, and European countries in the construction, oil and gas, agricultural, retail, and food sectors.

U.S. Department of State

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