Uzbekistan’s government has traditionally characterized cotton-picking as hashar, a term for voluntary labor that Uzbeks are expected to undertake for the good of the community. In practice, the concept has provided a way for authorities to cast its use of forced labor in the best possible light.
“If you refuse to work in the cotton fields, it is almost as if you are a traitor. … Everybody has to obey,” a schoolteacher in Uzbekistan told a human rights group this spring.
Now it appears that Uzbek authorities are rethinking their use of forced labor, even mulling doing away with the practice altogether. But some experts say for that to happen, a total overhaul of the cotton sector is needed.
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.