Thursday, June 21, 2012 -
The former Soviet republics, and Central and Southeastern Europe as a group, have the highest level of forced labor per population of anywhere in the world, according to a new report on human trafficking.
The U.S. State Department’s “2012 Trafficking in Persons Report”, released Tuesday, said that 21 million people worldwide are victims of forced labor.
Citing figures from the International Labor Organization (ILO), the report noted that the grouping that includes member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) has the world’s highest prevalence rate of 4.2 victims per 1,000 people, but accounts for just 1.6 million victims.
The five Central Asian republics are all classified as Tier 2 countries in a four-tier ranking.
Governments of Tier 2 countries do not meet the minimum standards in tackling forced labor, but are making significant efforts to comply with those standards.
Tier 1 countries fully comply with efforts to reduce human trafficking, while Tier 4 countries have the world’s worst cases.
The report cited Kazakhstan as a source and transit country for sex and forced labor trafficking, which fails to adequately screen migrants for potential victims.
Kyrgyzstan does little to convict offenders and many of its women and children are trafficked into forced prostitution abroad.
The report noted that Tajikistan is also a source country for sex trafficking abroad, mainly to the United Arab Emirates and Russia.
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are classified as Tier 2 Watch List countries, suggesting that they may be downgraded to Tier 3.
The report said domestic labor trafficking remains prevalent in Uzbekistan during the annual cotton harvest. It also noted that the use of forced labor during the 2011 cotton harvest was higher than in previous years.
Local authorities regularly use pressure to conscript children into the fields.
“In June 2011, the prime minister reportedly demanded an abundant cotton harvest and threatened jail time for those local administrators who fail to produce state quotas,” said the report.
The report’s acknowledgement that the Uzbek government has consistently failed to show strong effort to meet the minimum standards prompted human rights groups - including Human Rights Watch (HRW), the International Labor Rights Forum, the International Crisis Group, and others - to send a joint letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
“We are disheartened by the disconnect between the failure to downgrade Uzbekistan and the Uzbek government’s continued and systematic use of forced labor, repression of its citizens who attempt to monitor the situation, and overall denial of the problem,” the letter said.
Critics have pointed out that despite Uzbekistan’s dismal human rights record, Washington is treating the government with kid-gloves owing to the country’s geostrategic importance for NATO military operations in neighboring Afghanistan.