Support for the Implementation of the Decent Work Country Programme in Uzbekistan
This project built the capacity among national and local stakeholders to advocate for a reduction in child labor and forced labor and to promote fundamental principles and rights at work through the framework of the Decent Work Country Program agreement between the Government of Uzbekistan and the ILO.
The cotton harvest in Uzbekistan is one of the world’s largest seasonal recruitment operations, with an estimated 2.6 million people temporarily picking cotton every year. In response to concerns raised over the use of child labor and forced labor, the ILO has been monitoring the cotton harvest since 2013, through an agreement with the Uzbek Government and employers and workers’ organizations.
In April 2014, the Republic of Uzbekistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Labor Organization (ILO) for the first Decent Work Country Program (DWCP) in that country. A DWCP is a strategic partnership in which the ILO provides technical advice and support to a government in its efforts to realize core international labor standards through law and practice and to promote decent work.
At the time the Uzbekistan-ILO DWCP MOU was signed, USDOL’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor report had found that despite government initiatives to reduce child labor in the cotton sector, the government had maintained policies that mandated harvest quotas and caused local administrators to organize and impose forced labor on adults and children. Additional challenges to realizing decent work in Uzbekistan included a lack of labor data, limited experience among workers’ and employers’ organizations in advocating for their interests in labor policy, and insufficient awareness and capacity to apply international labor standards in law and practice.
The project focused on strengthening institutions and increasing the capacity of different actors to promote decent work as a foundation for the prevention of child labor and forced labor. It targeted child labor and forced labor abuses directly through support for data collection, awareness raising, legal and policy reforms, monitoring and inspections, enforcement, and promoting fair recruitment practices in seasonal agriculture. It also supported capacity building and improved practice in labor relations, hiring and working conditions, grievance mechanisms, and social protection. The project worked as part of a multi-year, collective effort to address child labor and forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector, involving the Uzbek government, workers, employers, civil society actors, other initiatives (such as the ILO Third Party Monitoring project to monitor child labor and forced labor in development projects financed by the World Bank), and the international community.
The project yielded important advancements in Uzbekistan’s response to issues of child labor and forced labor in the country’s centralized system of producing cotton. At project’s end in December 2020, labor exploitation in the sector had markedly decreased. See Child Labor and Forced Labor Reports; 2018 List of Goods; and Notice of Final Determination To Remove Uzbek Cotton From the List of Products Requiring Federal Contractor Certification as to Forced or Indentured Child Labor Pursuant to Executive Order 13126.
- With project support, the country revised the Labor Code and ratified five key ILO instruments, on topics such as freedom of association, labor inspection, and forced labor.
- The project improved constituents’ and public awareness of labor rights and how to report violations, via annual media campaigns, workshops, and the translation of ILO texts into local languages.
- During the life of the project, the labor inspectorate’s ability to identify forced labor and child labor and enforce relevant laws was enhanced through trainings, legal analysis, and peer exchanges.
- To address information gaps on labor conditions, the project developed and trained local stakeholders in child labor and forced labor harvest monitoring methodologies. The project played a key role in supporting the trade union federation to establish a complaint mechanism for labor violations and provide legal assistance to cotton pickers who reported being coerced.
- The project also produced in 2017 the first nationally representative quantitative survey on recruitment practices in seasonal agriculture. In response, the government publicly acknowledged the problem of forced labor, and created a national action plan to address it. Key measures taken to date have included raising the wage for cotton pickers, eliminating quotas for cotton producers, and increasing penalties for forced labor violations.
- The project contributed to improved recruitment practices and working conditions at the local level by training farmers on occupational safety and health standards and training community members involved in seasonal recruitment on principles of fair recruitment.
- In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the project provided technical support to employers, government, and trade unions by assessing and identifying ways to mitigate the impact of the crisis on the promotion of decent work in Uzbekistan.