Be it a doctor, a professor, an officer or a child, each and every citizen of Uzbekistan is forcefully employed in the cotton fields during the harvesting season in order to make the nation one of the biggest cotton producer throughout the world.
‘Modern Slavery’ is the term which perfectly defines the unconscionable & inhumane condition of the laborers in Uzbekistan’s Cotton Farming Industry.
As much as 75% of our clothing consists of cotton and nearly every material consists of it. With the increase in population and demands of people worldwide for cotton-based products, the demand and supply of cotton has shown a rapid increase with a directly proportionate rate of exploitation of the people in the industry.
The Uzbekistan Story
Located in the Central Asia, Uzbekistan is the seventh largest producer and third largest exporter of cotton in the world. It has proved its mettle in the quality of product produced and thus, has become one of the biggest suppliers to the European nations. The trust which it acclaims in its trade relations is totally absent between its citizens and the ‘drivers’ of the nation. Each and every citizen, be it a Doctor, a teacher or a service man is forced during the harvesting season to come to the fields to contribute to the harvesting activity. They are coerced to do so; otherwise they would be simply fired from their jobs and thus, would not be left with any means of survival. The agony, pain and hardships that they are going through can’t even be imagined and calls for immediate action.
The Story of Firuza
For several weeks, government officials forced Firuza, a 47 year old grandmother, to harvest cotton in Turtkul district in the western region of Uzbekistan. She was coerced by the local government to harvest the cotton to prevent withholding of child welfare benefits of her grandson, under which no child will be forced to work in the cotton fields. This was the rule that was ordered by the World Bank in order to prevent forced and child labor in return of the funding of the irrigation projects for the various districts of the country.
Ironically, World Bank saw the phenomena of child labor prevalent and took actions in this regard but didn’t see the slavery which is extensively and dramatically carried out against the adults of the nation. According to the Human Rights Watch Report, the World Bank is active in the country’s agriculture sector providing a total of $518.75 million in loans to the Uzbek government for projects in the sector with a condition to impose a strict ban and prohibition on forced and child labor. Failure of compliance can even suspend the loan. Worse, even after the agreement with the World Bank and laws by the Uzbek government, forced child labor flourishes in the nation.
The Pathetic condition of Gulnora
The plight of Gulnora, a schoolteacher, is no lesser than that of Firuza. In her interview to the Human Rights Watch, she said, “Cotton is mandatory for everyone. The government gave orders to pick and to not go against those orders….. If I refuse, they will fire me….. We would lose the bread we eat.”
Similar terror strategies are adopted by the Uzbek Government for various professionals like medical workers, teachers, other government employees and private sector employees to harvest cotton and prepare the fields in the spring seasons. Not only professionals, even the students too, despite of the World Bank orders for compliance with the laws, are forced to work in the fields after school hours and if someone comes on inspection, their teachers direct them to hide in the bushes. Thus, the practice of forced labor continues to haunt the students too.
More Danger to Come
The long history of slavery continuing in Uzbekistan is not only violating Fundamental Human Rights but also pose a threat to the lives of the ones who have indulged in it. Firstly, a large amount of water is required for cotton farming. In order to ensure high production of the material, abundant water supply to the cotton fields is ensured by diversion of water from various rivers and streams into the fields. This practice not only causes water scarcity in many regions of the country but also poses a threat to the livelihood of people like fishermen and boatmen, whose survival depends upon these water bodies.
Secondly, it also makes the lives of the people working in the field vulnerable to chronic diseases like cancer due to the prolonged exposure to lethal pesticides used in production as even gloves are not provided to the workers.
For whom the future never dawned
One of the most catastrophic example of Slavery practiced in the 21st century era in which nations are treading into display of nuclear strength, the era in which homosexual marriages are getting legalized and the era in which human-like-robots are granted citizenship, this plight of slavery which has embarked upon Uzbekistan, highlights not only the unethical, undemocratic and retrograde system prevailing in the nation where human rights are obnoxiously exploited but also showcases the lack of monitoring and governing of International Community, whose strict actions could set the nation on the right track.
Appeal to Shopaholics
Think wisely; think judiciously before buying a product in order to bring an end to such inhumane circumstances.
Do you all still love your comfortable summer cotton clothes the way before?
Author: Bhavya Sareen
Second Year Learner, Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA