Despite repeated efforts by human rights campaigners, the issue of forced labor in Uzbekistan just won’t go away. The country’s state-controlled system of cotton production continues forcing children and adults to harvest cotton under brutal conditions. The government of Uzbekistan, it seems, places a higher priority on maximizing cotton export revenues than it does on the rights and welfare of its people.
The Centre for Governance and Geopolitical Studies recently released “Forced child labour in Uzbekistan: Some Changes – But Not For The Better” which documents alarming trends from Uzbekistan’s most recent cotton harvests. The Centre’s research, supported by the Open Society Foundations, reveals that civil servants are routinely forced to pick cotton and that children are made to work the most difficult part of the harvest in late autumn, when the weather condition are the most severe.
Based on data collected during the 2010 harvest, the report calls on the International Labour Organization to send a monitoring mission to Uzbekistan and for the European Union, the United, States, the World Bank, and the private sector to use their influence to help put an end to the practice.
There is still, however, a real need to educate the private sector on corporate responsibility. Future business executives must be educated so that they can understand the issues surrounding different forms of production, including public health and educational concerns. In Uzbekistan, for example, there are serious concerns regarding the educational outcomes of children who are pulled from chools as well as real health concerns for the men, women, and children forced to work in hazardous cotton fields that are heavily contaminated with agro-chemicals.
In collaboration with Jean-Marc Huissoud, the director of the Grenoble Business School’s Centre for Government and Geopolitical Studies, the Centre decided to use the issue of Uzbek cotton as part of a case study for students at the business school. The result was a successful example of helping future executives understand that management objectives cannot be disconnected from their political and social environments.