Uzbekistan has the second highest prevalence of modern slavery in the world, and is home to the fourth largest population of enslaved persons, according to a new report.
The Global Slavery Index 2014 was compiled by the Australia-based nonprofit Walk Free Foundation (WFF). The West-African nation of Mauritania has the highest prevalence of modern slavery in the world, with 4 percent of the population (155,000 individuals) living under bondage-like conditions, the WFF estimates. In Uzbekistan the percentage stood at 3.97 percent, or 1.2 million people.
The WFF numbers for Uzbekistan appear conservative since, according to recently released estimates by the Cotton Campaign, roughly 4 million adults were pressed into gathering cotton this harvest season in Uzbekistan.
In terms of absolute numbers, Uzbekistan is in fourth place, ranking behind India, China and Pakistan. The overall populations of all three countries are vastly larger than Uzbekistan, which has an estimated population of 29 million. Around the world, 35.8 million people are enslaved, with 61 percent of that estimated total found in India, China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Russia, the WFF estimated.
The WFF’s definition of modern slavery encompasses (a) forced labor, defined as work exacted from any person under the threat of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily, (b) trafficking in persons, including for prostitution, sexual exploitation, forced labor, servitude and removal of organs, and (c) slavery (ownership of people) and slavery-like practices, such as debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, sale or exploitation of children and descent-based slavery.
The Global Slavery Index’s narrative on Uzbekistan characterized forced labor in Uzbekistan as “state-sponsored” and mostly connected to involuntary labor in cotton fields. “Students are threatened with expulsion from school and adults fear losing their job or government benefits, while physical and verbal abuse is institutionalized,” the report indicated.
The report also stated that, given the state-sponsored nature of forced labor in Uzbekistan, “vulnerability to these practices is high and […] even looking beyond the government’s role as a perpetrator of forced labor, endemic corruption, political repression and restrictions on civil society increase the vulnerability of all Uzbek citizens to some form of modern slavery.”