Reflections on the First Inclusive Business Forum in Tashkent - Dilmurad Yusupov
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Reflections on the First Inclusive Business Forum in Tashkent

Photo: Our inclusive team at disabled people’s organisation NGO “Sharoit Plus”

It is already more than a month since we organised the first-ever Inclusive Business Forum in Tashkent on 23 November 2021. The idea of holding such a forum came out of our project www.ishplus.uz (Job Plus) – the first disability-inclusive recruitment web portal in Uzbekistan. Working and convincing the private sector to hire disabled people was one of the main challenges while implementing our project to make the local labour market inclusive. We felt there is a big gap between disabled people’s organisations and local businesses while the latter is not really interested in employing persons with various forms of impairments.

It is quite understandable because there is an abundant labour supply as each year 500,000 young people enter the Uzbek labour market. So why should companies hire disabled people while there are plenty of non-disabled and young candidates aspiring to find jobs? Moreover, when the vocational training and skills of disabled people leave much to be desired due to barriers in accessing quality job training and the underdevelopment of inclusive education in general.

Welcome speeches by distinguished guests from our donors, government partners and civil society organisations

At the forum, Deputy Minister of Employment and Labor Relations Bakhodir Umrzakov told that “most employers do not have a corporate culture in hiring and providing conditions and social protection to disabled people.”  He added that there are economic incentives in place to hire other vulnerable categories of unemployed people but the mechanism for financial support of disability-inclusive employers is not really in place and the existing incentices are not reailly effective.

OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Uzbekistan Ambassador Pierre von Arx said that we need to sell the talents of disabled people and convince employers. It is very hard working against stereotypes and eliminating discrimination in recruitment, career advancements and other labour relations. Article 43 of the Law “On the Rights of Persons of Disabilities” obliges to provide a 3% employment quota for companies with 20 and more employees. If there is no fulfilment of this requirement the employers shall face administrative liability and fines.

But could it be possible to promote disability-inclusive employment practices only through obligatory quotas and fines? Can we force private businesses to do so? UNDP Deputy Resident Representative Doina Munteanu mentioned that we need to have incentives to support businesses to employ disabled people, e.g., providing tax incentives and tax exemptions to those private employers who actively hire workers with various impairments. In other words, there should be a fine balance of carrots and sticks in advancing disability inclusion in the labour market.

According to the World Health Organization, about 1 billion people or 15% of the world’s population have some form of disability. In 2020, 781.3 thousand persons with disabilities were officially registered in Uzbekistan. But only about 2% of them are officially employed. Chief technical advisor at ILO Uzbekistan Jonas Astrup said that economics and ethics can be aligned as the inclusive labour market is not only the rights issue but also there are economic and business reasons for inclusion:

According to ILO estimations, countries lose up to 7% of the GDP due to the exclusion of persons with disabilities from the labour market. What an incredible opportunity for Uzbekistan? Jonas mentioned three key issues – increasing employability, inclusive employment and enabling environments. ILO is ready to support the government of Uzbekistan in making its labour market disability inclusive.

Disability-inclusive employment starts with inclusive education

“We ourselves, as a society, create a lot of obstacles for disabled people, so that they do not have access to education, cannot get a good profession, and then we think why we cannot find a job for them. I would still start with a fundamental one – what kind of education we give to disabled people, which would prepare them for the labour market more successfully and then they would be in demand on the labour market,” said Aziza Umarova, consultant in the field of public administration, executive director of the consulting company “SmartGov Consulting”.

Aziza mentioned three important factors that are required for the employment of disabled people in Uzbekistan – inclusive education, accessible environment, quality social services and creation of the government agency on social protection. The importance of inclusive education and research was also stressed by Qobiljon Isaev a visually impaired head of the marketing and PR department at Kokand University, PhD student at the Tashkent State Economic University.

Should disability inclusion be part of corporate social responsibility?

Inclusivity and diversity in the workplace are not just one of the most striking global trends, but also an important condition for the development of socially-oriented and responsible businesses. For example, tech giant Google has created a special program for recruiting people with disabilities. The company recognises that to develop and implement innovative IT solutions for billions of users around the world, it needs a workforce that represents the interests of the people who use its digital products.

Malika Sharipova, Founder and Director at CARE CSR consultancy, pointed out that inclusion is an integral part of the corporate social responsibility strategy. She listed three components of CSR such as economic, ecological and social responsibility. Malika suggested Uzbek companies start with promoting inclusion in recruitment – hiring based on ability to perform a specific task, not on race, gender, colour, religion, ethnicity or disability, helping people with disabilities to do their best to unlock their true potential, support acceptance, respect and safety in the workplace of every employee by inculcating an inclusive corporate culture.

Malika also listed some great international examples of disability inclusion at the workplace at Accor Group – an international chain of hotels, which does not discriminate in recruitment on the basis of disability and is proud of their staff differences. Another global retail trade company Carrefour which has more than 12,000 shops around the world now employs about 12,500 persons with disabilities. The final example was from a Japanese car manufacture Honda Motors which took into account the views of people with disabilities in the design of the plant and now recruits about 1,000 employees with disabilities.

Real success stories from inclusive companies in Uzbekistan

What about disability-inclusive employment in Uzbekistan? Our team at NGO Sharoit+ believes that the reasons for the low employment rate of disabled people in Uzbekistan are mainly negative stereotypes and prejudices, employers’ lack of faith in their work capacities, abilities and talents, as well as ubiquitous discrimination on the basis of disability in the open labour market. The global trend of inclusivity has not yet reached our country. Disabled people are viewed here mainly as recipients of charity and rehabilitation assistance, rather than potential employees of government organisations or the private sector.

Nevertheless, four inclusive Uzbek companies shared their positive experiences and some challenges in the employment of disabled people. Asaxiy.uz (e-market with a project Asaxiy Books translating international bestsellers into Uzbek), EVOS (a fast-food company with about 60 restaurants all over Uzbekistan established in 2006 with about 2,000 employees), CLICK (online payment system), STANDARD POLIGRAF SERVICE (a printing house in Tashkent employing deaf and hard of hearing workers).

EVOS currently employs women with physical impairments on a remote basis as operators of their call centre for food delivery. The company representative mentioned some challenges as well when employing physically impaired women. As they are not quite aware of the city due it inaccessible public infrastructure it is sometimes difficult for them to navigate locations for food deliveries. But this shortcoming is not their fault and the problem is in the inaccessible urban infrastructure of Tashkent city.

CLICK is proud to employ blind and visually impaired operators at its call centre as well. Head of Customer Service Department Renata Abdrashitova praised her workers with visual impairments saying that they learn faster and are more disciplined and responsible. She mentioned a visually impaired candidate who was on the line since the second day of the induction training and already served clients.

One of the successes of the event was the fact a blind woman Surayyo Mukhamedova who was featured in the documentary film “Balance”, managed to get a job at CLICK as she had a chance to talk with the HR manager at the forum. Therefore, next year we are planning to organise the first inclusive job fair in Tashkent to connect inclusive employers with disabled job seekers.

Director of STANDARD POLIGRAF SERVICE Dildora Ismailova made a great speech about the need to switch from charity model to social model of disability:

Once I received a letter from the Mehribonlik community (a registered charity) asking for help. I decided to help, but how? Several times I helped them financaially. But as the Japanese proverb says: don’t give a fish in need, but give a fishing rod, he will feed himself further. This prompted me to hire people with disabilities.

A girl with severely diagnosed scoliosis is now working in our workshop. Her diligence and intelligence is different from everyone else. She shines at the workplace. With her everything is clearly counted, the entire quantity is written down. Her machine is cleaned and oiled on time. The workplace is neatly kept.

Besides we have four deaf workers at the packaging unit, ten people at the book covers unit and four assistants with disabilities. These people do not run away from monotonous work, they are responsible, take training with interest. This circumstance made me think. People with disabilities have become more interesting and in demand by us.

Finally, Pavel Tyutrin, trainer of career development programmes and Ada Grigorieva, coordinator for interaction with employers of the Department for Employment of People with Disabilities from Russian Disability NGO “Perspektiva” shared their experiences of promoting disability-inclusive employment in Russia. Bakytzhan Khudiyarov, President of the Public Association “Psychoanalytic Association” from Almaty, Kazakhstan made a presentation about the first inclusive Training Café

Watch the live recording of the forum below:

Check out the webpage of the forum in Uzbek and in Russian.

You can also download the forum programme in English.

The first Inclusive Business Forum was organised by our Public Association of Disabled People in Tashkent “Sharoit Plus”, together with the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations of the Republic of Uzbekistan with the support of the OSCE Project Coordinator in Uzbekistan.

We thank all our partners Go-Web.uz, UIC Group, NGO Imkon Uzbekistan, Association of Disabled People of Uzbekistan, Confederation of Employers of Uzbekistan, Centil Law Firm. Media partners of the forum: Gazeta.uz, UzNews, Kun.uz, ​​UzReport, O’zbekiston 24.

Special thanks to Dildorakhon Israilova, Maftuna Usmanova, Ulugbek Mamatkhanov, Aziz Abdullaev, Yodgor Radjametov, Yulduzkhon Umarbekova and Muzaffar Pulatov.

Look forward to participating in the second Inclusive Business Forum in 2022!

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