The World Bank signed a contract agreeing to suspend certain loans if evidence of forced labor was uncovered. Now, two years after we brought the World Bank’s attention to forced labor in Uzbekistan, as yet another harvest begins, it’s time to write directly to its President to demand an end to funding projects that benefit the cotton sector.
The World Bank’s goal is to reduce poverty through loans for developing countries. Right now, it is providing almost $500 million to Uzbek agriculture projects through its private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation. This includes irrigation systems in fields where citizens are forced to weed and harvest cotton.
We launched our campaign back in September 2015 and three months later, took it to the World Bank headquarters in Washington D.C., projecting images and video from the fields onto the building. Then in March 2016, we handed in 136,109 signatures to the World Bank President with our partners at the Cotton Campaign. Meanwhile each year brings more documented proof showing forced labor continues on World Bank project sites, particularly in the poor and vulnerable region of Karakalpakstan. In Uzbekistan, the government operates the world’s largest state-run system of forced labor, in which more than a million citizens each year are forced under threat of penalty to produce cotton for a state-run enterprise that benefits government elite.
Citizens like Elena Urlaeva, who document state-sponsored forced labor in the cotton fields, are routinely detained, harassed and physically assaulted, while journalists who attempt to document the truth are detained and deported. This year teachers and healthcare professionals were coerced into weeding and preparing fields for the annual harvest, underway right now.