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Major progress on forced labour and child labour in Uzbekistan cotton fields

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Most forced labour has been eliminated from Uzbekistan’s cotton fields, say monitors from the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Ninety-three per cent of those involved in the 2018 cotton harvest worked voluntarily, The systematic recruitment of students, teachers, doctors and nurses has ended.

However, according to the monitors, the recruitment of staff from state institutions, agencies and enterprises still occurs in some places.

Child labour, which was previously a serious problem during harvest time, is no longer a major concern.

“In many ways, the 2018 cotton harvest was a real test for Uzbekistan,” said Beate Andrees, Chief of the ILO’s Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work Branch. “A year ago at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, President Mirziyoyev committed his government to working with the ILO and the World Bank to eradicate child and forced labour in the harvest. This political commitment was followed by a number of structural changes and reforms in recruitment practices. The ILO monitors have observed that these measures are working and people on the ground can feel a real difference.”

The cotton harvest in Uzbekistan is the world’s largest recruitment operation, with some 2.6 million people temporarily picking cotton every year. The land allocated for cotton growing has been reduced but the crop still provides an important source of income, especially for women in rural areas.

Third-Party Monitoring

The ILO has been monitoring the cotton harvest for child labour since 2013, through an agreement with the Uzbek government, employers and trade unions. In 2015, as part of an agreement with the World Bank, it began monitoring the use of forced and child labour during the harvest.

ILO experts carried out 11,000 unaccompanied and unannounced interviews with cotton pickers and others involved in the harvest in all provinces of the country, to create a picture of the situation on the ground.

This year human rights activists were involved in a number of field interviews, awareness raising activities and reviews of cases gathered through a government hotline set up to hear complaints and questions.

No government representatives were involved in the monitoring. Moreover, to ensure the highest possible level of integrity, GPS coordinates were generated randomly and only given to the international ILO experts just before their departure to the next destination.

While the overwhelming majority of cotton pickers worked voluntarily in 2018, some pickers from state institutions, enterprises and agencies reported that they would have preferred not to have participated in the harvest but did not want trouble from their employer. Others in this category reported that they picked cotton voluntarily because of improved rates and bonuses.

Government reforms

As part of a number of reforms, the Uzbek government increased wages and introduced a differentiated pay scale so that pickers are paid more per kilogramme of cotton towards the end of the harvest, when conditions are less favorable and there is less cotton to pick. The wage structure was further refined in 2018 to encourage mobility by rewarding those who were willing to pick in less densely populated districts with lower yields.

The government hotlines dealt with more than 2,500 cases in 2018. In a number of cases local hokims (mayors) and heads of institutions were disciplined for violating people’s labour rights. The disciplinary action included dismissals, demotions and fines. Uzbekistan has begun processing raw cotton and is positioning itself as a manufacturer of textiles and garments.

“These are positive developments” said Beate Andrees, “Establishing full-time, decent jobs in manufacturing would certainly be helpful to reduce the seasonal peaks in labour demand which often fuel unfair recruitment practices.”

“We have seen in many places that international garment companies can play a key role in promoting good labour standards by insisting on high standards and by implementing international best practices. There is no reason why this should not take place in Uzbekistan as well.”

“There is still work to do but Uzbekistan has demonstrated that it deserves full support from the international community, including governments, investors, the garment and textile industry, and civil society in realizing the next phase of its ambitious reform agenda. The ILO stands ready to facilitate this process.”

The ILO has been implementing a comprehensive Decent Work Country Programme with Uzbekistan  since 2014. As well as the cotton industry, it deals with employment and recruitment policies, labour inspection and administration, labour law, occupational safety and health, social dialogue and strengthening trade unions and employers’ organizations.

The ILO TPM Project is funded by a multi-donor trust fund with major contributions from the European Union, Switzerland and the United States.

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Nations must ‘act together, urgently and with solidarity’ to end crisis of food insecurity

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A mother feeds her child at home in Tshombe District, Madagascar, where nearly 55 per cent of the population is facing severe food insecurity. UNOCHA/Viviane Rakotoarivony

Hunger levels around the world are at “a new high”, the UN chief said on Wednesday, in a call to action to fight the current surge in global food insecurity.

During a ministerial meeting on global hunger taking pace at UN Headquarters in New York, Secretary-General António Guterres said the number of severely food insecure people had doubled in just two years – from 135 million pre-pandemic to 276 million today, with more than half a million experiencing famine conditions – an increase of more than 500 per cent since 2016.

“These frightening figures are inextricably linked with conflict, as both cause, and effect,” he said. “If we do not feed people, we feed conflict”.

Hunger triggers

The climate emergency is another driver of global hunger he added, pointing out that 1.7 billion people have been affected by extreme weather and climate-related disasters over the past decade.

Moreover, the COVID-induced economic shock has compounded food insecurity by reducing incomes and disrupting supply chains, leading to an uneven economic recovery. Access to financial markets has been restricted, with some developing States now on the brink of debt default.

“Now the war in Ukraine is amplifying and accelerating all these factors: climate change, COVID-19, and inequality,” Mr. Guterres said.

Ukraine war’s repercussions

Between them, Ukraine and Russia produce almost a third of the world’s wheat and barley and half of its sunflower oil. Russia and Belarus are the world’s number two and three producers of potash, a key ingredient of fertilizer.

The war threatens to tip “tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity, followed by malnutrition, mass hunger and famine, in a crisis that could last for years,” warned the UN chief.

“In the past year, global food prices have risen by nearly one-third, fertilizer by more than half, and oil prices by almost two-thirds”.

Devastating societies

Meanwhile, most developing countries lack the fiscal space to cushion the blow of these huge increases with many unable to borrow because markets are closed to them.

“If high fertilizer prices continue, today’s crisis in grain and cooking oil could affect many other foods including rice, impacting billions of people in Asia and the Americas,” he detailed.

Additionally, children are threatened by a lifetime of stunting; millions of women and children will become malnourished; girls will be pulled from school and forced to work or get married; and families will embark on dangerous journeys across continents, just to survive.

High rates of hunger have a devastating impact on individuals, families, and societies,” spelled out the UN chief.

‘Five urgent steps’

However, if we act together, there is enough food for everyone, he said adding that “ending hunger is within our reach”.

The Secretary-General then outlined five urgent steps to solve the short-term crisis and prevent long-term damage, beginning with reducing market pressure by increasing food supplies – with no restrictions on exports and surpluses available to those most in need.

“But let’s be clear: there is no effective solution to the food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production, as well as the food and fertilizer produced by Russia and Belarus, into world markets, despite the war”.

Secondly, social protection systems must cover all in need with food, cash; and water, sanitation, nutrition, and livelihood support must be provided.

Fourth, governments must bolster agricultural production and invest in resilient food systems that protect smallholder food producers.

And finally, humanitarian operations must be fully funded to prevent famine and reduce hunger.

Act in solidarity

In closing, the UN chief said that the Global Crisis Response Group on food, energy and finance is tracking the impact of the crisis on vulnerable people, identifying and pushing for solutions.

“The food crisis has no respect for borders, and no country can overcome it alone,” he said.

“Our only chance of lifting millions of people out of hunger is to act together, urgently and with solidarity”.  

‘Goodwill’ needed

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken chaired the meeting in which foreign ministers from approximately 30 regionally diverse countries discussed steps to address global food security, nutrition, and resilience.

Describing the current situation as the “greatest global food insecurity crisis of our time,” Mr. Blinken attributed the emergency to conflict, drought and natural disasters – made worse by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Although hopeful, he said that “there is still a way to go” and that “the complex security, economic and financial implications require goodwill on all sides”.

To address the global crisis, US Secretary announced $215 million in humanitarian aid.

Urgent to open ports

World Food Programme (WFP) chief David Beasley drew attention to a world “too fragile” from years of conflict, pandemic and climate threats.

He also noted that current funding deficits could impede food access by as many as four million people.

Additionally, the top WFP official pointed out that a “failure to open the ports” in and beyond Ukraine will force people to the brink of starvation.

Although the “silos are full,” blockades and other impediments are rendering them inaccessible, Mr. Beasley said, urging governments to “step up” now”.

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‘We cannot rest’ until child labour is eliminated

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A woman watches children working at a stone quarry, Zambia. (file) IRIN/M. Deghati

Countries taking part in the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour this week in South Africa, are being urged to do more to end child labour by 2025.

The strong call for urgent action at the conference taking place in Durban, aims to combat an uptick in the numbers of children being forced into work.

Latest figures indicate that 160 million children  – almost one in ten worldwide – are still being affected. Furthermore, numbers are on the rise, with the pandemic threating to reverse years of progress, as child labour becomes a bigger scourge in particular among the vulnerable five to 11-year-old age group.

Make a difference

Speaking at the start of a week of hybrid format discussions, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called on delegates to commit to taking “far-reaching actions” to make a difference in the lives of children.

“We are here because we share a common conviction that child labour in all its facets is an enemy. Child labour is an enemy of our children’s development and an enemy of progress.

“No civilization, no country and no economy can consider itself to be at the forefront of progress if its success and riches have been built on the backs of children.”

Mr. Ramaphosa’s call was echoed by Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), who underlined that “child labour is a violation of a basic human right, and our goal must be that every child, everywhere is free from it. We cannot rest until that happens.”

According to the ILO, global progress against child labour has stalled for the first time in 2020, after two decades of moving in the right direction. In addition, the COVID-19 crisis is likely to have pushed millions more children into the workforce.

First in Africa

This is the first time the Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour is being held in Africa, a region where child labour numbers are highest, and progress has been slowest, ILO notes.

According to recent data, most child labour on the continent – some 70 per cent – is in the agricultural sector, often in settings where children are working alongside other family members.

The conference builds on four previous Global Conferences, held in Buenos Aires (2017), Brasilia (2013), The Hague (2010), and Oslo (1997), which raised awareness of the issue, assessed progress, mobilized resources, and established a strategic direction for the global movement against child labour.

Call for action

With the 2025 UN Sustainable Development Goals  deadline for the elimination of child labour looming, many speakers outlined the urgent need to recover the progress that had been made in many regions, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Conference is expected to conclude with a formal Call to Action that will outline concrete commitments to scale up action to eliminate child labour.

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Israel: UN rights chief calls for end to ‘culture of impunity’

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The funeral of Shirin Abu Akleh in Jerusalem. Photo: Maisa Abu Ghazaleh

Investigations must be held into the actions of the Israeli security forces, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Saturday, calling for accountability and an end to impunity.

Her appeal comes in the wake of the killing of Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh, who was fatally shot on Wednesday while covering an Israeli raid in Jenin, West Bank.

The veteran Palestinian-American journalist was buried in East Jerusalem on Friday and huge crowds turned out for her funeral.

‘Shocking’ use of force

The High Commissioner issued a statement saying she was following “with deep distress” the events in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

“Footage of Israeli police attacking mourners at the funeral procession of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in East Jerusalem on Friday 13 May was shocking. Reports indicate that at least 33 people were injured,” she said.

Ms. Bachelet said the Israeli use of force, which was being filmed and broadcast live,  appeared to be unnecessary and must be promptly and transparently investigated.

“There must be accountability for the terrible killing not just of Shireen Abu Akleh but for all the killings and serious injuries in the occupied Palestinian territory,” she said.

Call for investigations

The UN rights chief reported that 48 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces so far this year.

The latest death occurred on Saturday when a young man called Walid al-Sharif, succumbed to injuries sustained during clashes last month at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem.

“As I have called for many times before, there must be appropriate investigations into the actions of Israeli security forces,” said Ms. Bachelet. 

“Anyone found responsible should be held to account with penal and disciplinary sanctions commensurate to the gravity of the violation. This culture of impunity must end now.”

Security Council condemnation

The killing of Ms. Abu Akleh has sent shockwaves across the globe, and UN officials have been among those calling for an investigation.

The journalist was shot even though she wore a vest that identified her as a member of the press corps. Her producer also was wounded.

The UN Security Council issued a statement on Friday strongly condemning her killing, reiterating that journalists should be protected as civilians.

The Council also called for an immediate, thorough, transparent, and fair and impartial investigation into her killing, and stressed the need to ensure accountability.  

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