Cotton harvest in Uzbekistan is the country’s mainstay. Each year, government authorities force students and government employees to fill its annual cotton quotas. The Uzbek government does not allow international journalists to survey its cotton-picking process, and hence, much of the activity is still shrouded in secrecy. The BBC reports that the annual cotton production still uses Soviet-style quotas to “get the harvest off the fields as quickly as possible.”
In October and November, children, teenagers, teachers, cleaners, and office workers are forced to pick cotton. International pressure has been mounting to boycott Uzbekistan’s cotton. Companies such as H&M, Marks and Spencer, Tesco, and other Western retailers have not signed any contracts for Uzbekistan’s cotton at the Tashkent (Uzbekistan’s capital) Annual International Cotton Showcase. In September 2011, 60 multinationals have pledged to not purchase Uzbek cotton until the Government of Uzbekistan ends the practice of child labor. The surfacing of pictures obtained by the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (that show the living conditions of children working in Uzbek cotton fields in October 2011) further condemned the country of its use of child labor.
Many question whether or not the international pressure is effective on the Uzbek government. 15 to 18 year olds and university students are still forced to go to the fields. The Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan says that Uzbek authorities have raised the age of laborers in the cotton fields in response to the unprecedented pressure from Western nations. However, “the pattern of forced labor still applies,” said Yelena Urlaeva, the leader of the human rights group.
The Institute for War and Peace Reporting reveals that teenagers are given set picking quotas of 60 kilograms of cotton per day. Students can alternatively pay another adult roughly nine US dollars a day to do the work for them. A teacher from the Uzbek Syrdarya province says that there is a fine of approximately US $160 if they do not participate in the cotton harvest that engulfs the nation in October and November. Most cannot afford this form of compensation, since $160 is about a month’s salary for Uzbek teachers. Cotton pickers are paid 200 soms or eight US cents per kilogram of cotton.
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