World Bank rejects investigation into Uzbek child and forced labour

31 March 2015

In January, the World Bank’s accountability mechanism, the Inspection Panel (IP), declined a request by three Uzbek NGOs: the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia and Ezgulik, the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan to investigate the use of forced and child labour in cotton harvesting linked to a Bank-funded agricultural project in Uzbekistan (see Bulletin Feb 2014). In December 2013 the IP concluded that it is “plausible that the Project can contribute to perpetuating the harm of child and forced labour”. However, a year later it announced a postponed decision not to investigate. Its reasons included that “the Bank has made considerable progress in its dialogue with the government of Uzbekistan … in addressing the systemic issues necessary for the eradication of child and forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector”. Although it committed to set up a complaints mechanism to monitor the labour system with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and to suspend loans if it found evidence of this, none of these measures have yet been implemented. Umida Niyazova, of the Uzbek-German Forum commented: “The Bank decision is shocking… [It] is also a message to the Uzbek government that it can continue its forced labour system”.