Child picking cotton in September 2012, Suyima Pakhtakor, Jizzakh.

(Washington, DC) – The decision by the World Bank’s internal watchdog not to investigate the link between the bank’s loans and Uzbek government-organized forced labor is alarming, the Cotton Campaign said today.

The Cotton Campaign said it supports the message from independent Uzbek groups that have represented forced labor victims to the bank president criticizing the decision. The Cotton Campaign is a global coalition of labor, human rights, investor, and business organizations working to end forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector.
“The Bank decision is shocking,” said Umida Niyazova, director of the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights. “To millions of victims of forced labor in Uzbekistan, the bank has said that despite recognizing the relationship between their plight and its loans, it is not worth investigating. Disturbingly, the bank’s decision is also a message to the Uzbek government that it can continue its forced labor system.”

In 2014, the Uzbek government, as it has in previous years, forced farmers to produce cotton and required millions of its citizens to pick the crop. Tashkent continues to deny that it has a forced labor problem and represses citizens’ attempts to report such human rights violations.

The World Bank Inspection Panel decided that World Bank management and the Uzbek government are doing enough to address the problem since the government promised to respect labor standards in its loan agreements. The Bank has committed to suspend any loans if it finds child or forced labor in project areas.

To avoid having to pull its loans, the Bank needs to help persuade the Uzbek authorities to address the root causes of forced labor, the Cotton Campaign said.

The bank has also committed to create a complaint mechanism and to contract with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to monitor bank projects for forced and child labor. But the government has not taken any measures to dismantle its forced labor system and neither the complaint mechanism nor monitoring are up and running.

“The World Bank has not done enough to prevent forced labor linked to its agricultural loans,” said Jessica Evans, senior international financial institutions researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Inspection Panel has turned its back on Uzbekistan’s forced laborers, in exchange for promises from bank management.”

Recent reporting by a former official documented the Uzbek government’s control of the entire cotton production system, from production quotas and procurement prices to the monopoly management of input markets and all sales. While income disappears into a secret fund in the Finance Ministry, the system impoverishes cotton farmers and violates fundamental rights of farmers and others forced to work in it.
“The World Bank’s decision is remarkable given the Uzbek government still denies it’s using forced labor, as reported by the ILO Committee of Experts,” said Brian Campbell, legal adviser at the International Labor Rights Forum. “We do not believe any financial institution should be investing in Uzbekistan’s forced labor system of agriculture.”