According to the latest findings from the International Labour Organization (ILO), Uzbekistan was successful in eliminating systemic forced labour and systematic child labour throughout the cotton production cycle of 2021.
Since the cotton sector reform in Uzbekistan began seven years ago, the ILO estimates that two million children have been taken out of child labour and half a million adults have been freed from forced labour.
According to the '2021 ILO Third-Party Monitoring Report of the Cotton Harvest in Uzbekistan,' which is based on 11,000 interviews with cotton pickers, 99 percent of people who participated in the cotton harvest in 2021 worked voluntarily. Forced labour incidents were claimed to be "extremely few or non-existent" in all provinces and districts.
Direct or perceived forms of coercion were experienced by about 1% of the population. According to the research, 0.47 percent of respondents reported actual or perceived threats from Mahalla representatives (community leaders) about social benefits, while 0.12 percent reported direct or perceived threats from employers regarding job loss or salary.
The findings came from the latest from the ILO Third-Party Monitoring project, which has been monitoring the cotton harvest in Uzbekistan since 2015 under a World Bank agreement.
The country has long been plagued by the widespread use of child and forced labour in the cotton harvest and production processes, prompting a boycott of Uzbekistan cotton in 2006. The boycott was sparked by the country's long-standing practise of utilising forced labour to pick cotton– and is backed by more than 300 apparel brands and retailers.
According to an ILO statement, the majority of cotton pickers interviewed indicated working conditions have improved since 2020, with only 5% indicating they were worse than the previous year. This pertains to transportation, food, water, sanitation, and other amenities.
According to the research, one out of every eight persons in Uzbekistan of working-age took part in the cotton harvest, which was the world's largest recruitment drive. Women made up 62 percent of pickers, with the vast majority hailing from rural areas.
Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General, said that their collaboration has paid off because this year's report demonstrates that Uzbek cotton is free of systemic child labour and forced labour after seven years. Uzbekistan now has a chance to achieve its goal of advancing up the value chain and creating millions of decent full-time jobs in the textile and garment manufacturing industries.
Uzbekistan is the world's sixth-largest cotton producer. The government has begun on changes under the leadership of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, including the modernization of the country's prior agrarian economic model and the abolition of child labour and forced labour in the yearly cotton harvest, which was previously prevalent.
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