ILO Report, 27 July 2001


The Taliban, who have named the country the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, control around 90 percent of Afghanistan, the remainder being controlled by the Northern Alliance. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the only three countries that have recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. The Afghan seat in the UN still remains with the representative of the former president, Mr. Rabbani, ousted by the Taliban in September 1996. Afghanistan remains a country in conflict, with its infrastructure and social capital mostly destroyed and its governance systems ruptured. The national economy has been crippled through the loss of export earnings, unemployment and the lack of national economic management and revenue generation capacities. Two decades of war have compounded and complicated the spiralling reduction in the country's social and economic status. While repatriations of Afghan refugees living in neighbouring countries are taking place (both forcibly and voluntarily), new refugee flows into Iran and Pakistan (some 170,000 since mid-2000) have been reported. In March 2001, Pakistan imposed a ban on new arrivals, which led to a further deterioration of the living conditions in some of the refugee camps and reported incidents of forcible deportations.

Production is mostly subsistence, with many living below the poverty line. Job opportunities outside the subsistence economy are extremely limited. The only large employer in Kabul is the governmental structure of minimally functioning ministries. Trading, construction, and transportation are active, several as cross-border businesses. Poppy growing and opium production, the most lucrative sources of income, now appear to be severely restricted as a result of a ban issued by the Taliban in July 2000 . Overall, formal economic activity has remained minimal in most of the country. The country still suffers from a severe drought that began in 2000, compounding the water shortage that resulted from the scarcity of rain during both 1998 and 1999. Between September 2000 and March 2001, 700,000 Afghans had to leave their homes because of drought and/or war. In the most seriously drought-affected western part of the country, some 121,000 people live in six camps for internally displaced families. Afghanistan continues to be the most heavily mined country in the world, according to UN mine clearing experts, although the number of landmine casualties is said to have decreased in recent years.

In December 2000, the UN Security Council strengthened the sanctions it had imposed on the Taliban in November 1999. Despite world-wide protests, the Taliban's proceeded to destroy non-Islamic cultural heritage in Afghanistan, in particular two ancient Buddha statues, in March 2000.

ILO Constituents


The country is headed by a six-member ruling council under the Taliban. Under the council, at present, there are 18 ministries, of which none is specifically dealing with labour. The permanent mission in Geneva, still however, represents the former Rabbani government.


No identifiable employers' groups or associations of businesses exist, although both within and cross-border businesses are operating among Afghans, essentially trading in daily essentials, food stuff, catering, construction and transport. They also operate many businesses inside Pakistan.


At least two separate groups based in Pakistan, composed of refugees, claiming to represent the previous Afghanistan Federation of Trade Unions, have been in contact with the Islamabad Area Office. The most persistent one is the All-Afghanistan Federation of Trade Unions. Their authenticity and representativeness within Afghanistan cannot be verified. They have both requested assistance in workers' education activities, support to develop income generating programmes, and facilitation of their contacts with international aid organizations. The Secretary of Labour of Pakistan is of the view that these unions could not be allowed to function in Pakistan with refugee status. He made it clear to them that they could be members of the existing registered local (Pakistan) trade unions as long as they were workers in Pakistan and worked under the overall framework of the existing labour laws of Pakistan. These views were fully agreed to by the SAAT's Specialist on Workers' Activities. A few Afghani workers have already joined the local trade unions and participated in the seminars organized by the ILO in Peshawar.

Technical Cooperation

At the moment there are no ILO activities in the country. Most of the UN and international work is in the area of emergency, humanitarian aid and relief assistance.

However, ILO worked for nearly eight years with UNHCR and later UNOCHA, supported by Japanese funding, to provide skills training for Afghan refugees in Pakistan and to the extent possible, cross border in selected locations within Afghanistan. During this period ILO assisted in the training of 3,500 refugees, of whom about 13 percent were female.

Between 1995 and 1996 the ILO was a partner agency in the Comprehensive Disabled Afghan Project (CDAP) along with UNDP/UNOPS/WHO/UNESCO and Radda Barnen. This project works within Afghanistan and the ILO component consists of counselling, training and employment placement of the disabled. ILO had provided short-term international expertise and technical back-stopping to the Project Office in Pakistan. The ILO input consisted of employment support and vocational rehabilitation strategies, but our involvement has ceased for the time being in view of the human rights situation. CDAP is now active in a wide range of fields, such as teachers' training for female teachers of community-based schools, primary education for boys and girls at CDAP-initiated schools and micro-credit schemes.

International Labour Standards and Tripartism

The people of Afghanistan continue to be victims of gross violations of human rights and persistent breaches of international humanitarian law. In January 2001, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Dr. Kamal Hossain, urged both the Taliban leader and the President of the Islamic State of Afghanistan to undertake immediate investigations to identify those responsible for grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. In his fifth report to the Commission on Human rights, the Special Rapporteur cites numerous reports of gross human rights violations, including summary executions of civilians, massacres and forced conscription.

Taliban restrictions against women and girls remain widespread, institutionally sanctioned, and systematic. Instances of controled female employment, documented since February 1997, culminated in July 2000 with the issuing of a decree banning Afghan women from working in aid agencies except in the health sector. Women and girls suffer disproportionately in the realization and enjoyment of all their rights, and there are few indications that this will improve significantly in the near future.

Little is known about labour laws and practices. Labour rights are not defined and, in the context of the breakdown of governmental authority, there is no effective central authority to enforce them. There is no tradition of genuine labour-management relations. There are no known labour courts or other mechanisms for resolving labour disputes; freedom of association does not exist. Little information is available on forced or compulsory labour and child labour. There have been reports that the Taliban forced prisoners to do construction work at one of the prisons and that Taliban taken prisoner by the Northern Alliance were forced to work on road and airstrip construction projects. Children from the ages of 6—14 often work to help support their families by herding animals in rural areas, collecting paper and firewood, shining shoes, begging or collecting scrap metal. There are unconfirmed reports that children, at times, are forced to assist the fighters. Some of these practices expose children to the danger of landmines. There is no available information regarding statutory minimum wage or the enforcement of safe labour practices. Many workers apparently are allotted time off regularly for prayers and observance of religious holidays.

Afghanistan has ratified 15 of the International Labour Conventions, among them three of the eight basic human rights conventions, namely C. 100, C. 105 and C. 111. The issue remains that it was a different Afghanistan which did so, and that the war has left nobody among the de facto authorities with a sense of responsibility towards this international commitment. The Committee of Experts repeatedly requested the Afghanistan government in the past to reply on non-compliance with ratified conventions, including the core conventions, but to date it appears that no reply has been provided. Currently there is no case before the Committee.

Other issues

The ILO Islamabad Office is responsible for the day-to-day liaison on matters relating to Afghanistan, while overall responsibility lies with the Regional Office. Coordination of UN Afghanistan activities continues to be operated out of Islamabad, Pakistan.