The government slightly increased prevention efforts. The Commission coordinated anti-trafficking efforts with the Chair of the Senate serving as the National Rapporteur. The Commission was comprised of two subdivisions: the Sub-Commission on Human Trafficking (headed by the Minister of Interior) and the Sub-Commission on Combating Forced Labor (headed by the Minister of Employment and Poverty Reduction). The division of responsibility and lack of full coordination within the Commission contributed to confusion by some officials on what constituted trafficking. The Commission convened three meetings in 2022 and directed the activities of regional commissions in 12 regions, one semi-autonomous republic, and one independent city (Tashkent). Some international observers previously described insufficient coordination and communication between the Commission and civil society partners in the absence of a secretariat structure. The government did not centrally allocate funding for the Commission, which instead required funding contributions from individual member ministries’ budgets; this arrangement reportedly led to overreliance on NGO and international assistance. Authorities continued to conduct public awareness campaigns, some in collaboration with civil society.
Representatives from civil society reported no systemic forced labor for the second consecutive year but noted a small number of scattered instances of forced labor persisted in the annual cotton harvest. The central government continued to maintain oversight of the harvest and conducted awareness campaigns regarding the prohibition on forced labor. Independent labor monitors did not report any interference with their efforts to look for signs of forced labor during the harvest. Some civil society members noted the existence of district-level “forecasts” which can be construed as de facto quotas and create opportunities for coercion. Observers noted that some mahallas and farmers are pressured if they do not gather enough pickers or if their district was not meeting its forecast. Experts reported some cases of forced labor involved perceived threats rather than explicit coercion; there was an expectation and belief that refusal resulted in negative consequences from the mahalla or employers. Many citizens were not aware of their right to refuse to participate in work outside their professional duties. Observers reported clusters did not typically face any penalties from local officials when they violated contract obligations with farmers, such as delay of payments for cotton delivered, and some officials may perceive an obligation to protect the interests of the cluster or reportedly own a cluster. Cotton pickers often did not have contracts or were unaware of their existence, which civil society and international observers agree is a key vulnerability for pickers. Brigade leaders, often from the mahalla where most of the pickers lived, acted as middlepersons and signed contracts with clusters or farmers on behalf of a group of pickers, which could create opportunities for embezzlement according to observers. Media and civil society reports indicated ongoing development of the privatized cluster system inadvertently generated other vulnerabilities, including avenues for private businesses to subject harvest workers to contract violations, loss of bargaining power or choice of cluster-affiliation, coerced cultivation of cotton under threat of land loss, wage irregularities, and forced overtime. Some farmers produced cotton for a cluster without knowing what they would be paid at the end of the harvest due to lack of contracts and sometimes spent more on production than the clusters paid them, increasing the vulnerabilities of farmers and their workers; some clusters reportedly paid less than the government recommended price. The lack of oversight in the contract farming system, where farmers were responsible for hiring their own employees without oversight from the cluster, created additional vulnerabilities. Some authorities reportedly expropriated land formerly leased or owned by individual farmers for the creation of cluster sites without adequately compensating them, increasing their vulnerability to forced labor at those cluster sites. Observers previously noted the absence of a legal framework to ensure oversight of worker contracts, and during the 2022 cotton harvest most seasonal pickers did not appear to have contracts. The government continued its commitment to prohibit child labor in the cotton harvest; while there were isolated reports of children working in the fields, these appeared to have involved children helping their families, such as delivering water to pickers. The government, in coordination with an international organization, conducted anti-trafficking awareness-raising campaigns for pickers in the annual cotton harvest, including on the prevention of child labor and rights of cotton pickers. The government increased the pay per kilogram of cotton by 25 percent for the 2022 harvest. Observers noted government officials promptly responded, including with inspections, when cases of forced labor were reported. The presidential administration instructed regional khokims in September 2022 to work with state prosecutors on any forced labor cases.
The government continued to allow independent monitoring of the cotton harvest for child and forced labor, with unimpeded access to the cotton fields for observations and to interview laborers. The government continued to issue official monitoring access permits to civil society groups. The State Labor Inspectorate employed 344 inspectors that could impose administrative penalties. The government did not report data on investigations of forced labor allegations or monitoring farms and clusters during the 2022 cotton harvest, compared with 128 investigations and monitoring of more than 13,419 farms and privatized cotton clusters in 2021. The ILO concluded its Third-Party Monitoring project of the cotton harvest after the 2021 harvest and delivered its monitoring methodology to the government and civil society. The government did not provide updates on user assessments of the Cotton Harvest Feedback Mechanism for the last two harvests. Media, including state media outlets, continued to report on forced labor practices and violations, generally without penalization or censorship; however, the supreme court upheld the six-and-a-half-year prison sentence of a high-profile blogger subjected to politically motivated arrest after reporting on issues such as corruption and farmers’ rights. Observers noted restrictions in freedom of association, including the harassment of the only democratically elected trade union in the country and barriers to workers engaging in collective bargaining.
Some civil society members reported the central government continued to set silk cocoon production quotas and claimed that forced and coercive labor practices exist in the sector. NGO accounts of forced labor in the silk cocoon harvest alleged direct local government involvement and that some silk cocoon clusters forced farmers to sign compulsory contracts, requiring them to provide a specific amount of silk cocoons for every hectare of land – farmers who failed to produce the required quota risked land expropriation. In 2021, the government, in cooperation with an international organization, carried out a survey of the silk cocoon industry and reported no systemic forced labor and no children in the production of silkworms; however, production is usually home-based and done by families, reportedly including children, which continued to make this industry difficult to monitor. Half of the population of Uzbekistan worked in the informal sector; civil society has noted this includes the cotton and silk sectors, which makes it difficult for independent observers to monitor social protections and the application of labor regulations. It also creates vulnerabilities for workers, including a lack of contracts. Media reported state employees were forced to go door to door to collect votes for local project funding. The same media report noted the government was investigating these reports. The government, in cooperation with an international organization, carried out a survey of the construction sector and reported no evidence of systemic forced labor but identified vulnerabilities, such as a large number of informal workers. The government encouraged ministers to use a special fund under the Minister of Employment and Poverty Reduction to recruit unemployed individuals for public works – 206.1 billion soum ($18.36 million) was allocated in 2022, compared with 243.3 billion soum ($21.68 million) in 2021.
The government continued to provide support to labor migrants abroad, including forced labor victims, and allocated a budget of 38.8 billion soum ($3.46 million), an increase from 15.5 billion soum ($1.38 million) in 2021. Uzbekistan’s Agency for External Labor Migration provided financial, social, and legal assistance to vulnerable migrants in destination countries and assistance in finding employment for returning migrants. In 2022, the agency established 20 foreign migration agencies in Russia and four in Kazakhstan and Türkiye. The agency conducted pre-departure consultations with migrant workers, through which it provided information on primary destination countries’ labor and immigration laws, especially Russia and Kazakhstan; issued some prospective migrant workers health insurance; and provided micro-loans to cover basic expenses such as transportation and insurance. Additionally, the government, in cooperation with an NGO, provided information and support for labor migrants on safe work abroad and their rights. The Agency for External Labor Migration runs 26 representative offices in Russia, four in Kazakhstan, and one in Türkiye, Republic of Korea, and Japan. The government maintained agreements to enhance coordination on labor migration with Russia, Kazakhstan, Türkiye, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Republic of Korea, and Japan. Labor recruitment laws in Uzbekistan prohibited charging workers recruitment fees; however, the government did not report on enforcement of this ban.
Labor inspectors were not empowered to bring criminal charges for first time violations of the law against forced labor and did not have the authority to refer victims to services. International observers noted some inspectors also demonstrated limited comfort with their administrative enforcement mandate. Contacts noted the Labor Inspectorate was underfunded, understaffed, and had high turnover. The Labor Inspectorate’s inability to conduct unannounced inspections and refer victims to services without first referring them to law enforcement hampered their ability to identify and assist potential victims, and hindered effective implementation of labor laws.
The MVD operated a hotline and the Commission maintained a website to identify human trafficking victims and refer them to services. The hotline received 160 calls in 2022 (compared with 840 in 2021); the MVD received 471 additional appeals from other sources, 165 of which led to criminal investigations (compared with 195 in 2021). The government did not provide information about the number of victims assisted as a result of hotline calls. Observers noted most pickers in the cotton harvest were not aware of any government hotline to report forced labor. The government operated a 24-hour hotline that provided Uzbekistani labor migrants with legal advice, advised them of their rights, and directed them to the nearest consulate for assistance. An NGO operated a widely publicized 24/7 anti-trafficking hotline in 13 regional centers. The government did not conduct efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government reported providing anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.