Uzbekistan has pledged more transparency in a cotton industry blighted by a reputation for relying on child labor and press-ganging of unwilling individuals. Yet, authorities are hounding those trying to determine whether the government is keeping its word.
Doctors, teachers and even pop stars are among the hundreds of thousands of citizens believed to have been forced into the fields this year. But documenting the scale of the problem has been tough.
“We constantly experience problems with the security of people conducting forced labor monitoring, [but this year] has been the hardest in terms of searching for information,” Umida Niyazova, director of the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, told EurasiaNet.org by e-mail from Berlin.
Monitors risk physical intimidation, arrest and petty harassment, while those involved in the work are urged by officials to keep prying eyes away. “Many [Uzbek] organizations are warning staff not to talk to outsiders. Farmers must make calls [to officials] if they see strangers in their fields,” Niyazova said.
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.