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“Forced labour is unacceptable, it has no place in modern Uzbekistan”

November 4, 2019

Uzbekistan boosts commitment to eradicate forced labour by ratifying the ILO 2014 Protocol on Forced Labour

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Uzbekistan is the 40th country worldwide to ratify Protocol 29 to the Forced Labour Convention. The Protocol, adopted by an overwhelming majority by the International Labour Conference in 2014, calls for strengthening of enforcement mechanisms, labour inspection, education efforts, and protection of victims by ensuring access to remedies and compensation.

In 2017, Uzbekistan embarked on a wide-ranging social and economic reform process to improve people’s living and working standards. The reforms include measures to address the use of forced labour in cotton harvesting; an issue raised by the ILO, Uzbekistan’s trading partners, and national and international civil society representatives. Earlier in 2019, Uzbekistan consolidated its commitment to reform based on social dialogue by ratifying the Tripartite Consultations (International Labour Standards) Convention, 1976 (No. 144).  Currently, Uzbekistan is reviewing its labour law with ILO’s assistance.

“Forced Labour is unacceptable and it has no place in modern Uzbekistan,” said Tanzila Narbaeva, Chairwoman of the Senate of Uzbekistan. “We are making good progress on eradicating forced labour but we will not rest until every woman and every man of this country has access to jobs with decent working conditions” Ms Narbaeva added.

The Uzbek reform process has also included a dialogue process with local human rights activists. The new Senate Committee on Forced Labour and Trafficking in Persons, headed by Ms Narbaeva, now includes independent civil society representatives and activists.

“I’m encouraged by the changes in my country,” said Azam Farmanov, a former political prisoner who spent 11 years in prison. Today Mr Farmanov is participating in the monitoring of the cotton harvest for forced labour conducted by the ILO since 2015. “Things that I could only dream of in the past are now a reality. I encourage the international community to support Uzbekistan by helping us to build a strong vibrant and independent civil society. (…) We need responsible investors and buyers to help create decent jobs for our young people”, he continued.

The official unemployment rate in Uzbekistan currently sits at 9.7% and 17.2% for young people. As a result, many young Uzbeks seek employment abroad and become labour migrants. The country is the sixth-largest cotton producer in the world and one of the key job creation strategies is to move up the value chain and position Uzbekistan as a major manufacturer and exporter of textiles and garments rather than raw cotton only.

Through the ratification of the Protocol, Uzbekistan marks the ILO’s Centenary by expressing a strong commitment to tackling all forms of forced labour, including trafficking in persons. This ratification is also a crucial step towards the ILO objective of 50 ratifications by the end of 2019.

“Today, Uzbekistan is a shining example of how much progress can be achieved over a relatively short period of time when there is a political commitment, resources and a clear strategy in place,” said Beate Andrees, head of the ILO Branch on Fundamental Rights and Principles at Work. “Many countries can learn from the approach in Uzbekistan. The ILO stands ready to continue to support the government, employers, trade unions, civil society and people of Uzbekistan on this historic journey.”

By ratifying the Protocol, Uzbekistan is also moving ahead towards the achievement of decent work and the delivering of the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals, in particular, SDG target 8.7.