Since 2007, Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN) has engaged companies on the issue of forced labor in the Uzbek cotton sector. Some progress has been made, such as the ending of forced labor for children under 15. But those welcome changes have not ended slavery In Uzbekistan, and the issue still looms large in the supply chains of companies who source cotton without transparency or disclosure. RSN, along with SRI and NGO partners, felt it was time to take a snapshot of what the apparel and home goods industries are doing, and not doing, to help transition Uzbekistan away from its institutionalized labor abuse.
RSN’s latest publication, Cotton Sourcing Snapshot: A Survey of Corporate Practices to End Forced Labor, provides an overall understanding of what the industries are doing to identify risks, establish policies, implement procedures, and disclose practices to eliminate and prevent incidents of forced labor in cotton harvesting. This report follows on RSN’s 2013 publication, To the Spinner: Forging a Chain to Responsible Cotton Sourcing. It builds off the best practices highlighted in To the Spinner by identifying more in-depth examples of corporate procedures, providing an overall awareness of industry trends, and revealing which companies are excelling and which companies are underperforming.
Although companies may not appreciate being scored, many stakeholders have asked RSN what actions individual companies were taking to abide by the Cotton Pledge Against Child and Adult Forced Labor in Uzbek Cotton or other corporate commitments to not knowingly source Uzbek cotton. Conducting a survey, collecting best practices, and reporting on the results was the most efficient approach for RSN to communicate industry activities. In addition to understanding how companies are holding their suppliers accountable to not source Uzbek cotton, the survey had a goal of determining the activities or structures missing that could support companies and their suppliers in fulfilling their commitments.
By highlighting best practices, the report promotes examples that are currently being implemented and validates what can be done to avoid human rights risks at the raw extraction level. A few of the notable results from the survey that demonstrate the implementation of best practices include:
This post originally appeared on the Responsible Sourcing Network website here.
This month the World Bank signed an agreement to provide an additional $40 million to the government of Uzbekistan for the Rural Enterprise Support Project. The decision comes two months after the World Bank oversight body, the Inspection Panel, reported that the RESP project is likely linked to forced labor of children and adults. The World Bank has the mandate and leverage with the Uzbek government to drive reforms that would free the Uzbek people from forced labor. When will the Bank take even the basic steps in this direction?
In its latest announcement, the World Bank states that its goals in Uzbekistan are “improving living standards, providing support for economic reforms, modernization of infrastructure and social sectors, as well as providing knowledge and experience with the government and people of Uzbekistan.” Human rights is the foundation for all of these goals, yet the Uzbek government continues to systematically violate the human rights of its citizens, including forced labor in the agriculture sector to which Bank funding is directed. Unconditional funding the Uzbek government while it continues to reject its human rights duties and transparency sustains the state’s abuses.
Agriculture in Uzbekistan is a state-order system, in which the government forces farmers to cultivate and deliver annual quotas of cotton. While the state procurement price leaves farmers in debt, emigrating for work, or, in the worst cases committing suicide, government officials hide the estimated $1 billion of cotton income in in the extra-budgetary “Agricultural Fund,” to which only the highest level government officials have access and knowledge of how the proceeds are used. Farmers reported that they lost $562 for every hectare of cotton produced in 2013, due primarily to the low state procurement price. (This is approximately one-third of annual gross national income per person in Uzbekistan, which the World Bank reports to be $1,720). With this system, the Uzbek government not only benefits from violating farmers’ rights and ensures a pattern of reverse development in rural Uzbekistan but also forces over a million citizens, children and adults, to work in the cotton fields.
The World Bank Inspection Panel investigated the RESP project, because Uzbek citizens filed a complaint, documenting that the World Bank’s project was perpetuating the forced labor of farmers and children and adults in their communities. The Inspection Panel verified the Uzbek citizens’ concerns and postponed further recommendations until the World Bank proceeded to establish independent human rights monitoring of its project and the International Labour Organization advanced its dialogue with the Uzbek government. The ILO appropriately continues to press the Uzbek government to apply international conventions on freedoms from forced labor and child labor, but no one is holding their breath for the Uzbek government to end the forced-labor system of cotton production on which it has depended for a quarter century. During the 2013 cotton harvest, with ILO monitors in the country, the Uzbek government continued to use forced labor on a massive scale. The World Bank using its leverage on the Uzbek government would significantly increase the chances for the ILO to progress with the Uzbek government.
Since 2008, under the RESP projects I and II, the World Bank has financed the Uzbek government for agriculture and completely ignored the government’s systematic use of forced labor of children and adults. During this period, Uzbek civil society, human rights advocates, the International Labour Organization and other UN agencies have continuously reported what amounts to one of the largest state systems of forced labor in the world. The Bank’s Inspection Panel reiterated these concerns and pointed out the immediate action the World Bank should take. The World Bank’s inaction in the face of known human rights abuses and its own oversight body’s findings raises a major concern about its mission in Uzbekistan.
The forced labor of children and adults in Uzbekistan will end when the Uzbek government reforms its totalitarian control of the agricultural sector. The World Bank is uniquely positioned to drive reform but continues to impede its own success by ignoring fundamental human rights. Until the Bank uses its leverage with the Uzbek government to end the use of forced labor in agriculture, Bank investments are merely enabling the government elites to continue the state-order system underpinned by forced labor and layered with corruption.
Basic human rights due diligence is long overdue. The World Bank must act immediately to establish independent monitoring of the RESP and other Bank-financed projects in Uzbekistan.
With its announcement of additional financing for the Uzbek government, the World Bank missed an opportunity to establish and announce independent monitoring. Let us hope the World Bank takes this first step toward financing sustainable development in Uzbekistan soon.
By Andrew Stroehlein and Steve Swerdlow
We've just heard that Uzbek President Islam Karimov has "postponed" his visit to Prague, scheduled to start on February 20. This follows a campaign by over 30 organizations, including Human Rights Watch, to get the visit cancelled. The announcement is good news for all those who care about human rights abuses in Uzbekistan.
We were initially surprised that Czech President Milos Zeman had invited Karimov, given Tashkent's atrocious human rights record, and even if this latest move is simply a face-saving way out of a diplomatic dilemma, it is definitely a positive development.
What this alone doesn’t change, however, is the grim situation of people in Uzbekistan. They still face systematic torture in police custody and in prisons. Human rights defenders, journalists, and other peaceful activists are still held on politically motivated charges, and thousands of people are still locked up simply for practicing their religion.
There is still no freedom of speech or assembly.
The government still closes hundreds of high schools, colleges, universities, and other public services every year to force over a million children and adults to pick cotton for little or no pay.
However, at least Karimov won’t be able to parade on Uzbek TV news, showing how respected he is internationally, when he’s not. That is some small success.
And more importantly, this achievement brings satisfaction to many in Uzbekistan and in Uzbek civil society broadly who have here an example of how they effectively used leverage – through a democratic society and responsive government like the one in Prague – to effect change. This sense of empowerment is critical, as Uzbeks so often feel they have no influence over their society, their government, their future...
This small episode shows that's not the case, and no matter how much time passes, or how "strategic" Uzbekistan gets, rights abuses like the Andijan Massacre in 2005 won't be forgotten. Pressure can work, and accountability is the way to move forward against a leader who has been so dogged in dismissing human rights concerns for more than two decades.
It may seem a symbolic victory, but for those Uzbek activists who raised their voices on this, such symbols matter hugely.
This post first appeared on Human Rights Watch website here.
The President shall require the Tashkent improvements in the situation of human rights
Czech President Milos Zeman should withdraw its invitation authoritarian leader of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov to visit the country on an official visit. This was announced on February 10 31 organization in an open letter to the Czech president. Among the signatories - trade unions, investors and human rights groups from the Czech Republic, Uzbekistan and other countries.
"Given the egregious human rights situation in Uzbekistan and its persistent refusal to ensure compliance with the targets in this area, established the European Union to improve relations, it is an invitation to look out of place and out of season - says Steve Swerdlow , a researcher at Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia. - President Zeman must follow a long tradition of the country in promoting human rights and put a question about the visit as long as the government of Uzbekistan has not demonstrate concrete improvements in human rights and freedoms. "
The official visit is scheduled for 20 - 22 February 2014
Collective letter was sent to the President Zeman February 10, and within a few hours followed by a response of its secretariat confirming intention to hold the visit and incorrect reflection activities Human Rights Watch in Uzbekistan. Today, Human Rights Watch sent the president a new Zeman letter with counterarguments.
This post originally appeared on the Human Rights Watch website here.