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23 Mar 2021

Lynn Schweisfurth,
Uzbek Forum for Human Rights (Germany)

Uzbekistan: Privatisation and land grabs by cotton monopolies leave farmers destitute

Image of a field of cotton

Land-grabs – the new red flag for Uzbek cotton sector, 19 Feb 2021

Apparel brands are said to be eyeing Uzbekistan as a potential source of cotton, particularly with Xinjiang cotton now the subject of US sanctions. A process of reform has made significant progress on forced labour issues in Uzbekistan, but now another issue has arisen: land-grabs.

In this special piece for Apparel Insider, Lynn Schweisfurth, a consultant for Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, suggests the privatisation Uzbekistan’s cotton sector is seeing huge tracts of land being transferred to private operators for cotton cultivation, with farmers coerced into “voluntarily” giving up their land leases, with devastating effects on rural livelihoods...

Mirziyoyev’s liberal economic reform process has driven the swift privatisation of Uzbekistan’s cotton sector, facilitating a grand scale transfer of hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmers’ land to private operators who have monopolised entire districts. The transformation of the agricultural economy has left many farmers destitute and rural communities in poverty...

Private cluster operators have been able to take over vast swathes of farmland without having to pay a penny in compensation to farmers for their losses because, according to Uzbek law, there is no legal obligation to pay compensation as long as the land lease terminations are voluntary... However, the term ‘voluntary’ in an authoritarian setting such as Uzbekistan describes the degree of coercion exercised by government officials who wield disproportionate and arbitrary power...

The privatisation of the cotton sector has been facilitated through multi-million-dollar loans from international financial institutions, including the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the World Bank...

[refers to Silverleafe International, Petromaruz (owner of Surxon Cotton Textile Cluster LLC and Tashkent Cotton Textile Cluster), Indorama Group, Uztex (owner of Shovot Tekstil and Textile Finance Khorezm Clusters)]