World Bank funding state slavery: report
The World Bank has been accused of ignoring child and forced labour in Uzbekistan with a report saying schools have been forcing 10-year-olds to pick cotton.
Based on two years of field work, leaked official documents and hundreds of interviews by Human Rights Watch and the Uzbek-German Forum, the report asks why the World Bank was lending to the Central Asian dictatorship while it still relies on Soviet-era labour practices.
Activists note regular arrests, intimidation and harassment of activists who try to investigate the system.
The report called for the bank to suspend all loans related to Uzbek agriculture. It raised doubts about whether President Shavkat Mirziyoyev would increase transparency and labour reforms. Uzbekistan is the world’s fifth largest cotton producer with most of the exports going to China and Bangladesh to make cheap clothes.
“The World Bank needs to make sure that it is making decisions based on what is happening on the ground and not on the basis of an improved relationship that it has with the Uzbek government,” said Jessica Evans of Human Rights Watch. “The quality of education at all levels is greatly undermined even when children aren’t sent out to work because their teachers are sent out to work. Half the time the kids are left alone because there aren’t teachers in the room.”
State-controlled cotton production relies on an estimated 3 million public-sector “volunteers”, students and citizens who depend on government benefits to harvest the spiky crop by hand.
They face losing their jobs, places or benefits if they refuse to work, the report claimed.
“Respected master’s students! You must resolve your participation in the cotton harvest within one hour. Today we are compiling information and you are at risk of expulsion,” read a message reportedly received by a university student.
It said children as young as 10 were still being sent to pick cotton for more than a month.
In one irrigation project funded by the World Bank in an area where the government agreed to prohibit forced and child labour, researchers found 13-year-olds working in fields with adults.
A delegation of Uzbek cotton pickers filed a complaint with the World Bank in 2013 but the bank had lent more than US$500 million to projects related to the Uzbek agricultural sector in the past two years.
A World Bank spokesman said the organisation “does not condone forced labour in any form and takes seriously reports of incidents in the cotton sector of Uzbekistan”.
Tashkent refused to comment on the report.
Child labour persists during the Uzbek season. Picture credit: Vimeo