Today, the Cotton Campaign submitted evidence to the United States government in support of maintaining the government of Uzbekistan in the lowest ranking in the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report), which will be released in June.
The State Department’s annual TIP Report placed Uzbekistan in the lowest category, Tier 3, in 2013, and maintained the placement in 2014. Tier 3 is reserved for governments that do not comply with minimum standards to combat human trafficking and fail to take adequate steps to address the problem, and it carries the possibility of sanctions.
In 2014, the government of Uzbekistan not only failed to make serious progress to curb forced labor during the 2014 cotton harvest but continued to organize, orchestrate and benefit from it. The government used coercion to oblige farmers to fulfill production quotas and other citizens to fulfill harvest quotas under threat of penalty. Following international pressure, the government ended the nationwide mobilization of children to harvest cotton in 2014 but increased the forced mobilization of adults to compensate. Authorities suppressed any attempts by citizens to report on these abuses, sustained the policies that drive forced labor, and continued to deny the use of forced labor.
Therefore, the only appropriate ranking for Uzbekistan in the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report remains Tier 3. The Tier 3 ranking would communicate to the Uzbek government that its policy and practice of forced labor is unacceptable and would encourage the Uzbek government to commit to work with the International Labour Organization to apply international conventions prohibiting forced labor.
The Cotton Campaign’s comments to the US government are available here.
The following article is authored by Jessica Evans, Senior Researcher/Advocate for International Financial Institutions at Human Rights Watch and was originally posted here.
A report reveals that the World Bank’s Inspection Panel, its quasi-independent accountability mechanism, won’t investigate whether the bank is perpetuating forced labor in Uzbekistan, even though its initial examination found that bank projects in the country may be doing just that.
This decision calls into question the Inspection Panel’s commitment to stand with communities to end abuse.
The government forces millions of people to pick cotton in Uzbekistan each autumn for little or no pay, living in filthy conditions and missing work or school. Journalists and activists who report on these practices have been arrested and beaten. Under international pressure, the government ended the nationwide mobilization of children to harvest cotton in 2014, taking up the slack with adults.
But the Inspection Panel decided that World Bank management and the Uzbek government are doing enough to address the problem since the government is now willing to discuss the issue and promised to respect labor standards in its loan agreements. The bank has also committed to create a complaint mechanism and contract the International Labour Organization (ILO) to monitor bank projects for forced and child labor. But these meager promises ring hollow when the government isn’t dismantling its forced labor system, continues to deny its violation of forced labor conventions, and neither the complaint mechanism nor monitoring are up and running.
The World Bank’s board supported the recommendation not to investigate. Brazil and the United States highlighted the need to strengthen the Inspection Panel and expressed concern about reprisals against those reporting on labor conditions. But other board members, including EU members, said the bank has done enough.
The Inspection Panel and the board have effectively sent a message to the Uzbek government that as long as it pays lip service to addressing the issue, it can continue to force millions of people to work in the cotton fields. To World Bank staff, the Inspection Panel has said, make us a few good promises and we will go away. To independent groups trying to report on rights abuses linked to bank projects, they say, not our business. And to Uzbekistan’s forced laborers, the message is tough luck.
The following first appeared as a letter to the editor of the Washington Post on January 15, 2015, here.
The Jan. 11 Book World review of Sven Beckert’s “Empire of Cotton” [“Torments and benefits of cotton capitalism”] presented an impressive account of the history of state-supported violence in the cotton sector.
This tragic history continues today. The government of Uzbekistan forces millions of citizens to pick cotton, and it forces farmers to deliver production quotas, all under threat of punishment. The income from this state-orchestrated labor disappears into a secret fund, benefiting only a small cadre of government officials. Uzbekistan is the world’s fifth-largest cotton exporter. Buyers, especially commodity traders, disregard their complicity in forced labor.
While many retailers have pledged to avoid Uzbek cotton, the clothes we wear remain tainted with cotton from forced labor. In Uzbekistan, desperation feeds emigration, primarily to Russia, for work. Global pressure on the Uzbek government has reduced its use of child labor, yet the government continues systematic forced labor and jailing of citizens who document or report it.
Much more is needed before the people of Uzbekistan are free from state-forced labor and consumers can be confident the curse of violence in cotton is history.