This year’s forced mobilization of people to the cotton fields which started two weeks ago and has been carried out in all regions of Uzbekistan, has turned out to be particularly aggressive. People working in different sectors, far from the agricultural one, do not only have to leave their families and go to the fields to pick cotton, they also have to hide their profession from representatives of the International Labour Organization, and need to assure the authorities that they went to harvest cotton voluntarily and worked hard enough to fulfill the prescribed daily amount.
Being lazy or unable to pick cotton and refusing to pay oneself free from picking cotton will have negative consequences on the people’s working or study life.
“I guarantee that I will fully participate in the 2016 cotton harvest, and that I will collect 80 kg of cotton per day and comply with all the rules of the cotton season. If I do not fulfill the above requirements, I agree to be expelled from university”.
This letter, written on September 9, 2016, on behalf of the dean of the university Mr. Umidullaev, was disclosed by a student of the Samarkand State University.
These days, during the peak stage of the cotton harvest in Uzbekistan, statements of voluntarily participation in the harvest are collected from students and employees of various government agencies in order to show cotton pickers that in case they get dismissed or fired from work, they will have to blame themselves in the first place.
This video shows how Alia Madalieva, head nurse in the Clinic No. 8 in Kokand city, dictates to the clinic employees the text for their letter of commitment. Seated next to a clinic employee, who sadly looks down on the paper, she dictates: “If I do not collect 50 kg of cotton a day, I will voluntarily hand in my letter of resignation. I wrote this on my own.”
“You will leave your job on the same day”, assures her boss while collecting the letter guaranteeing the diligence and discipline of a lazy nurse.
Cotton as a strategic raw material of which Uzbekistan is in need, shall be collected and given to the state, regardless of the moral humiliation and the material losses common people have to face.
During the last few years, Uzbek officials representing the Chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions Tanzila Narbaeva, have not denied that with the beginning of fall, students and people working in different sectors have gone to pick cotton. However, according to the Uzbek officials, people go to harvest cotton voluntarily in order to earn some extra money.
This is a wrong assumption, as nobody would oblige volunteers to perform such duties.
The following dialogue took place this year on September 14, between a police officer in the city of Jizzakh and an employee of a private store. It clearly shows that the system of forced labor in the cotton sector of Uzbekistan remains a state policy.
On the audio recording, a police officer, introducing himself as Laziz Fayzikulov, requests the businessman to close his shop and go to harvest cotton. Asked about the legality of such a requirement, Fayzikulov argues that the order comes from the acting President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and has to be considered as binding.
Laziz Fayzikulov: When are you going (to harvest cotton)?
Entrepreneur: I am not. Who is going to work for me then? I’m paying taxes. What does cotton have to do with entrepreneurs?
Laziz Fayzikulovym: Which relation?
Entrepreneur: If I go to pick cotton, how am I supposed to pay my taxes? One should not interfere with business.
Laziz Fayzikulovym: Sorry… It is the states’ policy. Private enterprises are very recent, while cotton … Since the independence of our country, 25 years so far, cotton is a state policy.
Entrepreneur: There is such a thing as a Labour Code. I am not obliged…
Laziz Fayzikulov: (almost starting to shout). You have to! Go! You’re living in this Makhalla (district), so you have to do what is expected from you. You have to! You are going! You live in this state, you wear clothes made of cotton…
Entrepreneur: It is written somewhere in the law? Is it written in the constitution?
Laziz Fayzikulov: This is an order coming from the Prime Minister. Do you understand that? This is an order of the acting President. You have no right not to follow the rules.
Entrepreneur: Then specify it in the legislation. I will follow it. Show me the order. Otherwise it is only an oral instruction…
Laziz Fayzikulovym: an oral order is also an order! Then put your signature here stating that you are not going to the fields and will not carry out the order. We will see. You’re provokative. Do you understand it? You have to!!
Entrepreneur: No, I do not have to. I am a free person.
Laziz Fayzikulov: Do not agitate here, on the contrary, stay on the side of Uzbekistan and incite the neighbors not to go to harvest cotton either. If you do not go to the fields, at least shut up and do not instigate others, understand? You have no right to incite others not to go! Who are you anyways? Kid … You have no right not to execute the orders of the state!
It is important to note that in Uzbekistan it is very difficult to find someone who would openly refuse to pick cotton. Therefore this is a unique case. Starting from early age, children are told that cotton is not a plant, but a source of well-being and security, and that harvesting it is something sacred.
This year, the Uzbek government allowed the International Labor Organization to again conduct a “joint” monitoring of labor rights violations in the cotton fields.
The joint monitoring surprisingly showed that the ones responsible for the use of forced labor, are in charge of the monitoring, and that the representatives of the ILO, for the third year since the start of the Decent Work Program in Uzbekistan, apparently does not understand how this criminal machine of coercion actually works.