The Cotton Campaign has sent a letter to Hillary Clinton to urge the Uzbek government to end the use of forced labor in the cotton industry. The letter (PDF) provides a good summary of the issues at hand in this year’s determination of Uzbekistan’s status in the State Department’s annual trafficking in persons (TIP) report.
The State Department’s 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report identified negligible progress by the government of Uzbekistan to end the practice of forced labor, and it identified the government quota system as a root cause of the forced labor system of cotton production. Uzbekistan remained on the Tier 2 Watch List in 2011 for the fourth consecutive year, presumably because the Uzbek government had “a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act’s (TVPRA) minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is devoting sufficient resources to implement the plan” (22 USC § 7107). However, according to Ambassador George Krol, with whom we met recently at the Global Chiefs of Missions Conference, the Uzbek government has not accomplished much. The 2011 TIP report also recommended that the government of Uzbekistan invite a mission of the ILO to monitor the 2011 cotton harvest. This did not happen.
The letter argues that Uzbekistan’s lack of progress means it must be dropped to Tier III status. The only thing the government has done since last year’s determination was to declare its intent to police itself, which is really no different than what it said it would do last year. The only thing, the letter says, that can count as the type of legitimate progress that would justify keeping Uzbekistan at the Tier II Watchlist status would be Uzbekistan’s government inviting the International Labor Organization unfettered access to evaluate the 2012 cotton harvest.
The standard the Cotton Campaign sets in the letter is very reasonable. One could even argue it is generous to Uzbekistan’s government as it makes no specific demand for an immediate government response and even provides an opportunity for it to (unconvincingly) claim the ILO’s findings to be sobering and eye-opening.
That said, Uzbekistan’s government rarely budges in meaningful ways on human rights issues and can be expected to continue pushing its usual arguments on forced child labor. But, something has to give. The law on TIP tier determinations requires forward progress to avoid falling to a lower tier. The reporting of human rights organizations and independent media outlets absolutely clear that both children and adults are forced to work in the cotton fields and that the reasons for this are a direct result of state control of the cotton economy and orders from no lower than the prime minister to mobilize laborers to meet quotas. Additionally, there is little to suggest that Uzbekistan’s government has done anything so far this year beyond what it did last year to address child labor.
Great effort surely is and will be poured into avoiding a downgrade, but it is very difficult to see how one can be avoided giving the requirements of the law. Even with a downgrade, Uzbekistan’s importance to the NDN would certainly result in a waver of the sanctions that come with Tier III status. Nevertheless, Uzbekistan’s government would take the downgrade as an insult, and it would be paid for in other areas of the bilateral relationship.