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Majlis Podcast: Is There Less Forced Labor Now In Uzbekistan's Cotton Fields?


A worker tends to the plants in a cotton field outside Bukhara in August.

The cotton harvest has just started in Uzbekistan and will continue for the next several weeks.

During the 25 years that Islam Karimov was president, Uzbekistan habitually resorted to conscripting people into the fields during harvest time.

For most of those 25 years that included children, but international complaints and boycotts by leading international clothing brands forced Uzbek authorities to stop sending children into the cotton fields.

Instead, authorities increased the number of adults who were forced into the cotton fields during harvest season, more than 1 million of them annually, according to organizations such as the Cotton Campaign.

Local officials were tasked with sending a certain number of people into the cotton fields, including university students, teachers, medical workers, local state employees, and others.

Uzbekistan’s new president, Shavkat Mirziyoev, promised shortly after coming to power in late 2016 that he would end the practice of using forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields.

On this week's Majlis podcast, RFE/RL's media-relations manager, Muhammad Tahir, moderates a discussion that looks at whether Mirziyoev’s government has fulfilled this promise.

From Uzbekistan, Jonas Astrup, the chief technical adviser in Uzbekistan for the International Labor Organization, a group that has been monitoring the use of forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields, joins the talk.

From Germany, Umida Niyazova of the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, a partner in the Cotton Campaign, also participates.

From RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, Laziz Omilov, who heads Ozodlik’s special project on the cotton campaign – Pakhtagram – sat in on the session.

And I've picked some Uzbek cotton in my day, so I had a few things to say also.

Majlis Podcast: Is There Less Forced Labor In Uzbekistan’s Cotton Fields?
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Listen to the podcast above or subscribe to the Majlis on iTunes.

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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