The International Labor Organization's Director-General Guy Ryder recently visited Uzbekistan. He met President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and other high level officials and discussed how the country has been reforming to end forced labor and child labor, specifically in its cotton fields. Ryder talked exclusively to VOA in Tashkent.
Remarks from Tanzila Narbaeva, Uzbek Deputy Prime Minister at a reception in Tashkent, December 14, 2018: Good evening distinguished friends, distinguished partners, distinguished colleagues. We'd like to welcome the delegation headed by Mr. Guy Ryder, representing the International Labor Organization.
We're witnessing a very historic moment for Uzbekistan. Because for the first time in the history of our country, the Idle delegation headed by the general director, Mr. Guy Ryder, is visiting in our country.
I believe that you are aware that it took us a long and winding road to reach this level of success, full of cooperation within our agencies. In this regard, we have engaged all the local authorities, the governor's offices, all the institutions and agencies already in your country.
This year we're celebrating a five year anniversary of our collaboration. As it was stated by the majority of the international organizations, the cooperation between ILO and Uzbekistan was a true successful path of program. This cooperation was based on the tri-party approach.
Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General, exclusively talked to VOA following his meeting President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
Why does this meeting matter?
Well, the first thing to say is, it is indeed the first time an ILO director general's been to Uzbekistan. In 100 years history it was about time. But I think there are real reasons why this is the right moment for us to be in Tashkent.
We have been working and working intensively with the government and the employers and workers of Uzbekistan for about five years now. Trying to deal with this very difficult problem of forced labor and child labor in the cotton harvest.
I think we've made fantastic progress over a short period of time. We've still got to finish the job on forced labor, but we're very near it. The purpose really of my visit right now, was to take stock of that, that progress. But also to think what we should be doing next.
We have established relations, I think, of great confidence in trust with Uzbek partners, and at this moment of reform and change, we think we can contribute more. So, we're looking to broaden our agenda, and see how we can assist the government and people of Uzbekistan in this very ambitious process of change and reform, which has been set in motion under leadership of the president.
The ILO struggled to engage the Uzbek government for many years but eventually found a common language with Tashkent. How?
Ryder: What we decided to do, and you're right to point it out, this relationship started with a conflict. With a very difficult situation. Very serious allegations were made against Uzbekistan in the ILO for the use of child labor and forced labor. We came and we looked at that, and we developed a plan to eliminate child labor and forced labor.
The facts speak for themselves. Child labor is effectively irradiated from the cotton industry in Uzbekistan. We estimate, in our latest estimate, that forced labor is only seven percent of the cotton harvest right now. That's seven percent too many. But I don't think anybody can deny, not even those who have criticized us, that we have made extraordinary progress.
The results speak for themselves, and my view is, yes we take risks, yes we get our hands dirty. That the way I put it. We came here, we monitored the harvest, we worked in the conditions that we found. But I think anybody who takes an objective and fair look at the results obtained, have to agree that this was an effort well worth making.
What did President Mirziyoyev say to the ILO chief?
Ryder: Well, look I think we share the same point of view. He pointed out that we both, on both sides, criticized for engaging in this partnership. He sees, that I think as we do, that the problem is not yet finished, but very close to it. But then our conversation, I think, turned much more to the challenges of the future.
When you go through a process of economic liberalization of the type that Uzbekistan has embarked upon, there are gonna be major issues. There are gonna be major issues of employment, of social protection, of training, of employment services. I do believe that the ILO job in the future is gonna be much more to focus on these processes of change in the future.
I think putting a social dimension into the process of economic liberalization, is a major responsible deed for the ILO, and I think we look forward to working with our colleagues in the government to bring that about.
What are ILO's main conclusions so far?
Ryder: Look, I think we can fairly say, the systemic use, the government direct use of false labor has gone. What we now have to do is to mop up the pockets where through inertia, or for because of local misdoing, if I can put it like that, there is still problems to be solved.
I think we look to our friends in the government to make sure that those last pockets of problems are mopped up. This is about being assiduous, being politically alert, to making it very very clear that these are practices that will not be tolerated anywhere, under any circumstances.
Ryder: Look, we discussed the progress that have been made, and I think that there was a considerable amount of agreement. That despite the criticisms that have sometimes been leveled at this operation, that the results really work very positive and very important. Not just about false labor and child labor, but they said that the manner in which the ILO had engage with the government, but also with the human rights defenders.
That opened up new spaces and a new willingness to talk, from the government, from the civil society groups as well. They felt that this was a positive benefit which spilled over beyond this specific issues. Look I'm always willing, and I think the ILO should be willing to work with civil society groups and share our aims, who have a constructive contribution to make. We seek always to do that. I think some of the criticism that's made at the ILO has not always been accurate. I don't think it's always recorded with the facts. But that's fair enough. We have to be open, we have to be transparent. I think we have, together, made a great contribution to the credibility of what we have done.
By actually engaging human rights defenders in the monitoring of force labor. We've actually invited them in, have a look, make your own determinations and assessment of what we're doing. I think this transparency is enormously important, and I have to say, when we meet the president this afternoon, he made a very strong commitment to be open to talk to all of those who interested in issues that we're dealing with. I thought this was very positive.