Open letter to Cotton Campaign Coalition on removing the Uzbek Cotton Pledge
The Government of Uzbekistan is taking measures to combat the consequences of the novel coronavirus. Despite the adaptation of some spheres and businesses in Uzbekistan, as well as government help to vulnerable population groups, additional actions are needed to support the economy.
In this regard, today the Minister of Employment and Labor Relations of Uzbekistan has issued an open letter to the senior leadership of the Cotton Campaign coalition to lift a global boycott on Uzbek cotton. The Minister's full statement is available in the text below.
Mr. Bennett Freeman, Co-Founder, Cotton Campaign
Ms. Judy Gearhart, Executive Director, International Labor Rights Forum
Ms. Allison Gill, Acting Coordinator, Cotton Campaign
Dear Mr. Freeman, Ms. Gearhart, and Ms. Gill,
On behalf of the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations of the Republic of Uzbekistan, I would like to express my deep gratitude for your visit to our country from January 28 to February 6, 2020.
We appreciate the spirit of constructive dialogue that you brought to the meetings of your delegation with the Chair of the Senate of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the Chair of the National Commission for Combating Human Trafficking and Forced Labor, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Investment and Foreign Trade, the Minister of Agriculture, the heads of employees’ and employers’ organizations, the heads of local administrations, state labor inspectors, and representatives of civil society and mass media.
I assure you that the Government of Uzbekistan continues to take decisive action to eliminate all forms of forced labor in furtherance of the “Roadmap of Reforms” your coalition launched last year, and in accordance with our commitments to improve social welfare and protect human rights for all Uzbeks.
These commitments have been codified in several pivotal legal acts. At the beginning of this year, President Mirziyoyev signed the law criminalizing the use of forced labor. He issued a decree formally adopting the “Strategy of Agricultural Development of the Republic of Uzbekistan for 2020-2030,” reducing the role of the state in the agricultural sector. On March 6th, a historic decree was issued “On Measures to Introduce Market Principles in Cotton Production,” which will end state directives over the production, pricing, and sale of cotton beginning this year.
As these recent legal acts attest, the Government of Uzbekistan, working in collaboration with economic operators and members of civil society, is poised to start a new chapter in its transformative reform of the cotton industry in Uzbekistan.
To enable us to move into this new chapter with a free hand to bring meaningful change to the Uzbek people, I call on you to end to the boycott on Uzbek cotton carried out through the Uzbek Cotton Pledge.
Importantly, the Government of Uzbekistan is not seeking an end to your important work. We would like to continue to work collaboratively as we enter this new chapter of reform, drawing on your expertise to consolidate the progress made in eliminating forced labor, to support ongoing monitoring efforts, and to assist in the introduction of sustainability and social responsibility commitments across the value chain.
As confirmed in the latest report from the International Labor Organization, “systematic forced labour did not occur during the 2019 cotton harvest” and “systematic or systemic child labour is no longer used during the cotton harvest in Uzbekistan.” We are proud of these achievements and determined to build on them. Of course, we fully recognize that there remains significant work to safeguard labor rights in Uzbekistan, and we note the important recommendations recently made by your coalition, which are priorities for implementation.
However, alongside the demonstrable progress in the elimination of all forms of forced labor over the previous three harvests, there is another, more urgent reason for my call to end the boycott.
Uzbekistan is now facing an unprecedented dual threat for public health and economy following the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The ILO estimates that nearly 25 million jobs will be lost worldwide, representing the loss of $3.4 trillion in income losses for workers — Uzbekistan is no exception.
Today, the labor market of Uzbekistan is facing extraordinary pressure. Over 1.5 million Uzbeks are unemployed. With the country in lockdown, we estimate that nearly 150,000 citizens have already lost their jobs and more than 140,000 migrant workers have returned home without a source of income. More than 200,000 Uzbeks have now fallen below the poverty line.
State enterprises, the private sector, and the wider labor market are working to adapt to the new conditions, but the national economy will struggle to generate much needed employment.
Here, your decision to end the cotton boycott would be pivotal. Uzbekistan’s textile sector is one of the country’s leading sources of employment. In textile production alone, nearly 7,000 enterprises employ more than 200,000 workers, whose incomes support the livelihood of 1 million of our citizens. Our preliminary assessment suggests that the end of the cotton boycott could double overall exports of Uzbek textiles — growth that would create much-needed jobs.
The resumption of exports to the United States and the European Union could also play an important role in the global response to COVID-19. Textile producers in Uzbekistan have already mobilized in a short period to achieve a tenfold increase in the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the domestic market. Face masks, surgical gowns, and other forms of PPE made with Uzbek textiles could potentially help address global shortages.
We hope you can consider an end to the boycott as an act of solidarity towards the Uzbek people, enabling our citizens to secure their livelihoods in these difficult times and to look to the future with greater optimism.
I look forward to our continued cooperation and I wish you and your families strength and good health.
Minister of Employment and Labor Relations