MEPs backed a textiles trade deal with Uzbekistan on Wednesday, acknowledging its efforts to eradicate child labour. But they also urged it to take further steps to end all other forms of forced labour, e.g. by students and civil servants, in its cotton harvest.
"This consent is the result of the progress and commitments made by Uzbekistan in the fight against forced and child labour. But as adult forced labour remains a strong concern, we will follow the situation closely and if there are serious human rights violations or any regress on these issues, MEPs will not hesitate to ask the Council and the Commission to suspend the entire partnership agreement", rapporteur Maria Arena (S&D, BE) said after the vote.
The draft recommendation was passed by 564 votes to 100, with 41 abstentions.
MEPs gave their consent to include textiles in the 1999 EU-Uzbekistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA). This sought to encourage the Uzbek government to pursue full eradication of all forms of forced labour and to further strengthen its cooperation with the EU.
In a separate non-legislative resolution voted on Wednesday, MEPs welcome the fact that Uzbekistan has started to work with the International Labour Organization (ILO), pointing out that it has almost fully eradicated child labour in the past three years. They nonetheless urge the authorities to step up a national awareness-raising campaign to wipe out the practice entirely.
MEPs also welcome Uzbekistan’s progress in reducing forced labour in cooperation with the ILO, but note that NGOs are still reporting massive forced mobilisation of students and public employees during the cotton harvest, as well as the interrogation of citizens who speak out about the harvest and the persecution of human rights defenders.
MEPs will therefore continue to monitor developments and may ultimately ask the EU Commission and Council to suspend the agreement, if the authorities fail to follow through on their commitment to abolish forced labour.
In December 2011, Parliament adopted an interim report postponing its decision on consent pending an improvement in the human rights situation in Uzbekistan. The ILO has since carried out three monitoring missions which revealed that child labour has been virtually eradicated. In its latest report of 2015, the ILO identified a number of indicators linked to abusive work conditions and controversial recruitment processes, which are currently being addressed by the Uzbek government.