After a two-day delay, the World Bank has approved agriculture and education projects in Uzbekistan, despite concerns raised that such investments risk perpetuating the state-sponsored system of forced labor. Under this system, the Uzbek government coercively mobilizes more than a million Uzbek citizens annually to produce cotton, including farmers, students and school staff.
As stated in advance of the World Bank Board meeting, the Cotton Campaign believes that while the Bank has an important role to play in funding development in Uzbekistan, it also has an obligation to help secure the dismantling of the state-sponsored forced labor system. We regret that the Bank did not postpone the projects until after the Uzbek government had taken meaningful steps to begin dismantling this system and instead focus on high-level dialogue with the government towards that end.
The World Bank now faces an enormous challenge in implementing the approved projects while ensuring they do not inadvertently support ongoing human rights violations. The Bank must take all necessary measures to ensure that the Uzbek authorities live up to their commitment to stop using forced labor in the regions or through institutions that will benefit from these new programs. The Bank should, at a minimum:
- Ensure robust and fully independent third-party monitoring of the labor situation in the project areas, including by setting up a channel for confidential communications between the third-party monitor and independent Uzbek civil society.
- Require that the government of Uzbekistan provide journalists and independent organizations unfettered access to the project areas.
- Take all necessary measures to ensure that no one faces reprisals for monitoring or reporting human rights violations in project areas, for engaging with the Bank’s project monitors, or for bringing complaints.
- Immediately cease financing these projects if it is determined that state-sponsored forced labor continues in the project areas and redirect the funds to support remedies for victims.
- Require that the Uzbek government enhance financial transparency and accountability around income from cotton sales as a condition for releasing project loans.