Global Coalition Calls on the Asian Development Bank to Halt Project Supporting the Cotton Industry in Uzbekistan
(New York, NY) – The Asian Development Bank (ADB) should halt the Modernization and Improved Performance of the Amu Bukhara Irrigation System (ABIS) project in Uzbekistan, until the Uzbek government ends forced labor of children and adults in the agricultural sector, said 38 human rights, labor, business, investor, and religious organizations today in a letter to ADB President Takehiko Nakao.
“The ADB should urge the Uzbek government to end forced labour, not fuel the sector in which human rights abuses continue,” said Umida Niyazova, Director, Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights.
Cotton is the sector that stands to benefit most from the ADB ABIS project, yet the Uzbek government continues to operate a forced-labour system of cotton production. In 2013, the government systematically mobilized children aged 15 to 17 and adults to pick cotton throughout the country, and authorities mobilized even younger children in some locations. Forced child labour was organized through the state education system, under threat of expulsion from school. Public- and private-sector workers were forced to pick cotton under threat of losing their jobs. Authorities transported students from the schools to the fields in public buses, and students and adults who were deployed to pick cotton far from their homes were housed in schools and other public buildings, often at their own expense.
Recent reports by the International Labour Organization and World Bank Inspection Panel also raised serious concerns about the ongoing use of forced labour in the cotton sector. The Inspection Panel concluded that the plausible link between the bank financing for the agricultural sector and the perpetuation of forced labour raises serious policy compliance issues.
Since 2006, ADB policy has been to work towards the “elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor” in designing and implementing all its projects. Yet ADB planning documents for the ABIS project did not address the use of forced labor in the cotton sector. When Human Rights Watch and the Cotton Campaign called attention to the risk of the then proposed ABIS project perpetuating the forced-labour system, the ADB proceeded with project implementation without adequate safeguards.
“We call on the ADB to support sustainable rural development in Uzbekistan, beginning with the eradication of forced labour,” said Nadejda Atayeva, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA).