BERLIN – There are calls for the World Bank to acknowledge “violations in loan agreements to Uzbekistan” because of “credible evidence of forced labor” in the country’s cotton picking project area last season. A new report claims the Uzbekistan government forced education and medical workers, other public sector employees, private sector workers, people receiving benefits, and some college and university students to pick cotton involuntarily. “People faced consequences, including dismissal, loss of salary or benefits, and other punishments if they refused to pick cotton or failed to work hard enough,” say the researchers.
The 96- page report is produced by the Uzbek–German Forum for Human Rights (UGF), a German-based NGO dedicated to improving the human rights situation in Uzbekistan.
The report claims that during the study period, citizens could only avoid picking cotton if they paid for a replacement worker to pick for them. The Uzbek-German Forum also documented “unprecedented levels of extortion of money from citizens to pay for replacement workers and cotton, including the extortion of money from public sector employees ostensibly recalled from forced labor.”
The report calls for the World Bank to agree to an action plan to bring the Uzbek government into compliance with its commitments not to use forced or child labor in its project areas. “Such a plan should include an immediate end to systematic forced labor in the 2018 spring fieldwork season and the fall 2018 harvest and a comprehensive plan for reform, including to change recruitment practices and to establish a culture of accountability and prevention,” says the report.
The report adds: “The World Bank should also acknowledge that the feedback mechanism remain weak, ineffective, and not perceived as independent and, as such, do not fulfil the Bank’s obligation.”
This could be taken as a criticism of the ILO. The report later suggests the ILO should cease providing a monitoring role for the World Bank, “instead focusing on the promotion of fundamental labor rights and decent work for all.”
In February, we reported that child labour is no longer being used in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields. An ILO report tot the World Bank found the use of child labour in Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest had “come to an end,” while concrete measures to stop the use of forced labour had been taken.