ILO Report Reaffirms Forced Labor in Uzbekistan World Bank should suspend agricultural loans until the Uzbek government takes real steps to end state-sponsored forced labor
17 December 2015: For the entire history of Uzbekistan, citizens have endured state-orchestrated forced labor to produce cotton that generates income for the elite and not for the people. In, 2015, for the first time, the Uzbek government did allow the International Labor Organization to conduct a monitoring of forced and child labor during the cotton harvest. According to both the ILO’s final monitoring report and independent Uzbek monitors, there is convincing evidence the government of Uzbekistan continued to use forced labor in 2015 by compelling through various means more than one million citizens to grow and pick cotton.
The ILO report states that “the risk of forced labour under conditions of organized recruitment is real, and not merely theoretical.” Its findings include: (1) the practices of officials responsible for meeting cotton quotas did not change; (2) there were indicators of forced labor related to widespread organized recruitment of adults to pick cotton; and (3) public-sector workers in the education and health-care sectors were compelled to contribute labor or payments. The ILO report concludes that “Robust further steps are required to remove the risk of forced labour.”
The ILO monitoring was carried out pursuant to an agreement between the Organization and the World Bank. The Bank provided $500 million in financing to Uzbekistan for agricultural projects. As conditions for receiving these loans, the government of Uzbekistan promised to abide by its own labor laws – including laws that ban the use of forced and child labor – in the areas where the World Bank projects were to operate. The ILO report’s reaffirmation of the existence of forced labor indicates that the Uzbek authorities violated their contractual commitment to the World Bank. Therefore, the Cotton Campaign urges the World Bank to suspend these two loans until the government of Uzbekistan demonstrates progress in reforming the cotton production system it has put in place and is the root cause of the massive use of forced labor.
While allowing the ILO to monitor this fall’s cotton harvest, the Uzbek government simultaneously took extraordinary measures to cover up its use of coercion. Most critically, police repeatedly arrested, attacked, and intimidated citizens documenting forced labor. Among the most outrageous cases, police arrested activists Elena Urlaeva and Malohat Eshankulova on September 29 while they were interviewing students sent to harvest cotton. During a 14-hour detention, the women were subject to body-cavity searches. Police also detained and beat another activist, Dmitry Tihonov; the same day his home office was burned down in a clearly intentional fire. Another monitor, Ukhtam Padaev was arrested on November 16 and remains in custody.
This harassment of Uzbek activists seeking to monitor the cotton harvests is a violation of international law and calls into question the sincerity of Uzbek government claims to be working to end forced labor. The Cotton Campaign calls on the Uzbek government to immediately and unconditionally release Uktam Pardaev and drop all charges against Dmitry Tihonov. It is incumbent on the World Bank and ILO to hold the Uzbek government accountable.