The chain of exploitation in the textile industry often begins in the collection of cotton. This is the case in Uzbekistan, one of the largest producers in the world, with the peculiarity that, in the former Soviet republic, forced labor is organized by the government itself. One million people are forcibly mobilized each year to work in the cotton fields in exchange for ridiculous salaries. Due to international pressure, children brought from schools have been released from this task, as confirmed by the International Labor Organization on 30 November in a report sent to the World Bank. “The problem is that this has generated a lack of labor in cotton, and the government now recruits employees of public institutions, including doctors, nurses and teachers, harming these public services because of a shortage of personnel,” says Alfa and Omega. Umida Niyazova, director of the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, member organization of the Dignitex network.
Niyazova has lived in exile in Berlin since 2009. Her work is now focused on raising awareness about the violation of human rights in her country, both in consumers and in companies and in governments and international institutions. On the ground, it maintains, at the same time, a clandestine network of activists and informants. The Forum scored a major success in November by obtaining and broadcasting an audio recording in which an Uzbek official responsible for a cotton pickup threatens and abuses with gross insults the local leaders in charge of the labor cam. Next to him are members of the security forces and even the chief prosecutor of the region. They pass from 10 at night after a strenuous working day started in the early hours of the morning and the required cotton quotas have not been covered.