Uzbekistan: NGO report links World Bank funds to forced labour in cotton sector
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Author: Bretton Woods Project (UK)
Despite evidence documented by Human Rights Watch (HRW) of forced labour in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector, on 30 June the World Bank’s board approved yet another project that will benefit the sector, green-lighting a $145 million irrigation project...
There have been repeated concerns about forced labour in Bank-funded projects in the country in recent years. In 2016, a victim of forced labour in Uzbekistan’s cotton production and three Uzbek human rights defenders filed a complaint in relation to a textile project financed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC, the Bank’s private sector arm) with the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO, the IFC’s accountability mechanism; see Observer Autumn 2016). The complaint alleged the textile project failed to account for forced labour in the cotton sector as part of the project’s supply chain. In November 2015, civil society organisations called for the World Bank to suspend its loans to Uzbekistan, “until the government ends the use of forced labour in all project-affected areas” (see Observer Winter 2016).
However, the new HRW report noted, “Despite [these concerns], the World Bank remains active in the country’s agriculture sector providing a total of $518.75 million in loans to the government for projects in this sector in 2015 and 2016.”...
World Bank exposed on plans to dismiss findings of forced & child labor in bank's agriculture projects in Uzbekistan, says Human Rights Watch
Author: Jessica Evans, Human Rights Watch
"A Peek Behind the World Bank’s Mask", 1 August 2017
On June 27 we released a joint report documenting forced and child labor linked to the World Bank’s agriculture projects in Uzbekistan. We hoped it would cause bank officials to rethink their approach. But then the bank’s country team inadvertently left an internal conversation on our voicemail...It revealed their ultimate goal: to protect the bank from external pressure and get new agriculture projects through their executive board “unscathed,” as one of the voices on the phone said...On June 30 the bank’s executive board approved yet another loan benefiting Uzbekistan’s cotton sector, which is at the center of the government’s forced labor system.
Author: Jessica Evans, Human Rights Watch
"The World Bank's investment in forced labor", 17 Jul 2017
...The [World] Bank has loaned more than half a billion dollars to Uzbekistan’s agriculture sector in recent years, while fully aware that the cotton harvest relies on a massive government program of forced labor and that cotton profits are largely swallowed up by opaque government accounts. It is difficult to imagine how any growth stemming from the World Bank’s current agriculture investments will benefit Uzbekistan’s poor...As the fifth-largest cotton producer in the world, Uzbekistan generates an estimated $1 billion in revenue, or about a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product, from one million tons of cotton fiber annually. These funds go into an extra-budgetary account in the Ministry of Finance that is not open to public scrutiny and is controlled by high-level officials. [Human Right Watch's] new research, along with the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, shows that the Uzbek government forced enormous numbers of students, teachers, medical workers, other government employees, private-sector employees, and sometimes children to harvest cotton in 2015 and 2016, as well as to weed the fields and plant cotton in the spring of 2016. The Uzbek-German Forum estimates that the government forces more than a million people to work in the cotton fields every year...Instead of suspending its loan following the 2015 harvest, which was defined by forced labor and attacks on human rights defenders who tried to document [the] abuses, the World Bank increased its investments in Uzbekistan’s agriculture industry through its private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC)...
Author: Anna Pujol-Mazzini, Thomson Reuters Foundation
"Forced labour in Uzbek cotton fields linked to World Bank funds: rights groups", 27 June 2017
Children and adults were forced to pick cotton in at least one project funded by the World Bank in Uzbekistan, where the cotton industry has been tainted by widespread forced labour, rights groups said...The Uzbek government forced students, teachers and doctors to plant cotton and harvest it from 2015 to 2017, stopping children from receiving a full education, Human Rights Watch and the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights said in a report...Those who refused to work on cotton fields risked being fired, expelled from school or having their welfare payments slashed...In one irrigation project funded by the World Bank spanning an area where the government had agreed to prohibit forced and child labour, researchers found children as young as 13 working in fields as well as adults who had been coerced into working. The World Bank provided almost $700 million in loans to the Uzbek government for agriculture and water projects in 2015 and 2016.
Author: Annie Kelly, Guardian
The World Bank is accused of funding agricultural projects in Uzbekistan that are linked to state-sponsored child labour and forced labour in the cotton industry. In a report out on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch and the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights said they documented systematic forced labour and cases of child labour in an area where the Uzbek government is implementing a World Bank-funded irrigation project.The human rights groups claimed their investigations pointed to the continued systematic use of forced labour throughout the country’s cotton sector, and said it is “highly likely” other World Bank-funded projects are affected...In recent years, following bans on Uzbek cotton by international retailers and fashion brands alarmed by reports of widespread mobilisation of children into the fields, the country has embarked on reforms to eradicate child labour from its cotton industry...The World Bank and the ILO both disputed the report’s findings. “The World Bank Group does not condone forced labour in any form and takes seriously reports of incidents in the cotton sector of Uzbekistan,” said a World Bank spokesperson. “We continue to voice our strong concerns on labour issues to the government of Uzbekistan and we have been working with the International Labour Organisation to put in place a robust monitoring programme.”...
Author: Human Rights Watch
The World Bank is funding half a billion dollars in agricultural projects linked to forced and child labour in Uzbekistan, Human Rights Watch and the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights said in a report released today. Under the loan agreements, the Uzbek Govt. is required to comply with laws prohibiting forced and child labour, and the World Bank can suspend the loans if there is credible evidence of violations. The 115-page report, “‘We Can’t Refuse to Pick Cotton’: Forced and Child Labour Linked to World Bank Group Investments in Uzbekistan” details how the Uzbek Govt. forced students, teachers, medical workers, other govt. employees, private-sector employees, and sometimes children to harvest cotton in 2015 and 2016, as well as to weed the fields and plant cotton in the spring of 2016... The report is based on 257 detailed interviews and about 700 brief conversations with victims of forced and child labour, farmers, and key actors in the forced labour system, leaked govt. documents, and statements by govt. officials... A total of 274 companies have pledged not to source cotton from Uzbekistan knowingly because of forced and child labour in the sector... [Human Rights Watch and the Uzbek-German Forum urge] [t]he World Bank and the IFC [to] suspend agriculture and irrigation financing to Uzbekistan until it is not tainted by forced and child labour.
Author: World Bank
The International Labor Organization (ILO) says the Government of Uzbekistan is making progress in reforms to address risks of forced labor in its cotton industry. In a report released today, following its independent monitoring of the 2016 cotton harvest season, the ILO concludes organized child labor is now socially unacceptable in Uzbekistan and the practice has been phased out...[Furthermore] [t]he ILO report says that Uzbekistan continues to implement action plans to reduce the risks of forced labor that are influencing the context of the annual large-scale cotton harvest...ILO monitored the implementation of government commitments and measures against child and forced labor in Uzbekistan and reported that “no incidences of child and forced labor were identified with regard to World Bank-supported agriculture, water, and education projects.”...The monitoring concluded, among other things, that further steps are required to remove the risks of forced adult labor, and noted that the existence of such risks has been recognized by the Government of Uzbekistan...Even though organized child labor has been in practice phased out, both the World Bank and the ILO recommend a high level of vigilance to ensure ongoing efficacy of measures against child labor in the country, especially for 16-17 year-old students.