TASHKENT (TCA) — A new report on global slavery ranks Uzbekistan among the five worst offenders in terms of the number of people forced into modern slavery, RFE/RL reports.
With its forced labor in the cotton fields, Uzbekistan also was estimated to be the world’s second-worst country when ranked by the prevalence of slavery in proportion to the population.
The findings are contained in the 2016 Global Slavery Index, which was released on May 31 by an Australia-based nongovernmental organization called the Walk Free Foundation.
Around the world, the report says, there are now almost 46 million people who are enslaved.
Andrew Forrest, the chairman and co-founder of the Walk Free Foundation, told RFE/RL on May 31 that the 2016 estimate is more than 10 million higher than the findings from his organization’s 2014 research.
The definition of “modern slavery” includes people who are trapped in forced labor, human trafficking, debt bondage, sex trafficking, forced marriage, and other “slavelike exploitation.”
The report says Uzbekistan ranks near the top of the shame list for modern slavery because the government in Tashkent uses one of the world’s largest state-sponsored systems of forced labor to harvest cotton.
Uzbekistan’s government denies that forced labor is an official policy. It claims its citizens volunteer out of civic responsibility and take part in a form of traditional voluntary labor called “khashar.”
But Forrest notes that employees of local administrations, teachers, factory workers, state firms, and doctors are forced to leave their jobs every autumn for weeks at a time to pick cotton with little or no additional compensation.
Those who refuse to take part are threatened with punishment and dismissal from their state-sector jobs, he said.
“That, unfortunately, defines itself as modern slavery,” Forrest said.
The Global Slavery Index says that the Uzbek government, under pressure from international monitoring organizations, has “begun to take steps to improve the situation.” But it says reports from the 2015 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan estimate that more than 1 million people were forced to work.
In absolute terms, the report said countries with the most people forced into slavery are India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan.