World Bank-backed child labour in Uzbek agriculture

18 February 2011

The Bank’s support to agriculture in Uzbekistan has landed it in hot water suggesting that it does not take seriously the social implications of its lending. Uzbek NGO Ezgulik issued a report in December 2010, documenting severe flaws in the Bank’s assessments in providing the second phase of a $67.9 million loan to the Uzbek government. The loan, provided through IDA, the Bank’s low-income country arm, was a renewal of funding for the agriculture sector for 2010-2015.

The report documents a number of failures in the Bank’s support, ranging from assumptions made about reforms underway in the agricultural sector to overestimates of pay being $300 per month for adult labourers rather than the $100 reported by Ezgulik. According to Ezgulik, most disturbing is the Bank’s conclusion that their social assessment did not reveal extensive use of child labour, contrary to reports by other institutions including UNICEF. Child labour in the Uzbek cotton fields has been widely documented by national and international NGOs in recent years. “[S]chool kids are working in cotton fields in hazardous conditions … while the agro-project managers of the World Bank keep reporting success stories about the situation in the farming sector of Uzbekistan,” concludes Ezgulik.

NGO Anti-Slavery International, whose European-wide campaign Cotton crimes seeks to end slavery in the cotton sector has also raised concern about the Bank’s support of Uzbekistan. “Uzbekistan’s authorities’ use of coercion to force adults and children into the cotton fields during the harvest has been well-documented, including by SOAS in their recent report ‘What has changed?’,” says Joanna Ewart-James. “It is therefore imperative that the World Bank has effective screening policies in place to ensure that funds for rural development do not support the ongoing practice of state-sponsored forced labour.”