The World Bank must convey to the Uzbek government that attacks against independent monitors assessing the extent of forced labor in the country’s cotton harvest will not be tolerated. The World Bank must also outline consequences should the attacks continue, according to the Cotton Campaign.
In a July 29 letter to key World Bank officials, the Cotton Campaign, a coalition of dozens of labor and human rights groups that includes the Solidarity Center, wrote:
“The World Bank should take all reasonable measures to create an enabling environment for independent actors to monitor projects that it finances. We have not seen the bank take such measures in Uzbekistan.”
The World Bank Group is providing more than $500 million in financing to the government of Uzbekistan for its agriculture sector and additional financing to multinational companies processing forced-labor cotton in Uzbekistan.
1 Million in Forced Labor During Cotton Harvests
During each fall cotton harvest, the Uzbekistan government forces more than 1 million teachers, nurses and others to pick cotton for weeks, deeply cutting services at schools and medical facilities. Last fall, the government went to extreme measures—including jailing and physically abusing those independently monitoring the process—to cover up its actions.
“The Uzbek government’s repression of human rights monitors has made it impossible for essential mitigation measures of monitoring and grievance redress to function,” according to the coalition, which sent the letter in advance of an early August roundtable meeting of the World Bank, the Uzbek government, the International Labor Organization and diplomatic missions in Uzbekistan.
The coalition also is requesting that the World Bank “obtain an enforceable commitment from the Uzbek government to allow independent journalists, organizations and individuals to have access to all World Bank project-affected areas and to monitor, document and report about forced labor without interference or fear of reprisal.”
Uzbekistan Downgraded in US Trafficking in Persons Report
In June, an Uzbek victim of forced labor in cotton production and three human rights defenders filed a complaint against the World Bank’s private lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC). They seek an investigation into forced labor connected to a $40 million loan to Indorama Kokand Textile, which operates in Uzbekistan. The complaint presents evidence that the loan to expand the company’s cotton manufacturing facilities in Uzbekistan allows it to profit from forced labor and sell illicit goods.
Also in June, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, where forced labor in cotton harvests also is rampant, were downgraded to the lowest ranking in the U.S. State Department’s 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report.
An Uzbek victim of forced labor in cotton production and three human rights defenders filed a complaint against the World Bank’s private lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), according to a coalition of human rights groups.
The June 30 complaint seeks an investigation into forced labor connected to a $40 million loan to Indorama Kokand Textile, which operates in Uzbekistan. The forced labor victim, who requested confidentiality, and the rights defenders Dmitry Tikhonov, Elena Urlaeva and a third who requested confidentiality, presented evidence that the loan to expand the company’s cotton manufacturing facilities in Uzbekistan allows it to profit from forced labor and sell illicit goods.
“The IFC should support sustainable rural development in Uzbekistan, not projects that perpetuate the government’s forced-labor system for cotton production,” says Tikhonov, who lives is in exile in France following possible retaliation—including the burning of his home—for his efforts to document forced labor in Uzbekistan.
“The ombudsman should investigate the IFC loan to Indorama, which we believe violates international law and the IFC’s own policies prohibiting forced labor.” The Cotton Campaign, the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, the International Labor Rights Forum, and Human Rights Watch jointly announced the complaint.
1 Million in Forced Labor Each Year
Each year, the Uzbek government, which controls all of the country’s cotton production and sales, forces more than 1 million teachers, nurses and others to pick cotton for weeks. Last year, the government went to extreme measures—including jailing and physically abusing researchers independently monitoring the process—to cover up its actions.
Uzbekistan was downgraded to the lowest ranking in the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report which was released last month.
The World Bank has invested more than $500 million in Uzbekistan’s agricultural sector. Following a complaint from Uzbek civil society, the bank attached loan covenants stipulating that the loans could be stopped and subject to repayment if forced or child labor was detected in project areas by monitors from the International Labor Organization (ILO), contracted by the World Bank to carry out labor monitoring during the harvest.
The World Bank approved the loan to Indorama in December 2015, despite an ILO report reaffirming the problem of forced labor.
In March, Cotton Campaign, a coalition of labor and human rights groups that includes the Solidarity Center, presented a petition signed by more than 140,000 people from around the world to World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim, calling on the bank to suspend lending to the agriculture sector in Uzbekistan until the Uzbek government changes its policy of forced labor in the cotton industry.
Read the complaint here.
Nigeria’s largest trade union federations will call a nationwide strike May 18 unless the Nigerian government returns fuel subsidies it removed on May 11.
Meeting over the weekend, the executive councils of the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), which together represent millions of workers, along with civil society organizations, decried the nearly 50 percent hike in fuel prices caused by deregulation and called on the government to return fuel subsidies and prosecute those involved in subsidy scams.
In a joint statement, the groups said that over the past five years, “there has been no increase in salaries or wages or pensions in the face of devaluations, spiraling inflation and other vagaries of the economy,” making the rising price of fuel “unrealistic, unaffordable (and) unacceptable.”
More than half of Nigeria’s population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day, according to the most recent figures from UNICEF.
Although Nigeria is Africa’s biggest petroleum producer, the country imports nearly all of its refined fuel, unlike most members of the Oil and Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and is currently facing a severe shortage. Unions and civil society organizations are urging the government to create enhanced local refining capacity to permanently solve the problem of scarcity.
Eighty percent of Nigeria’s foreign currency comes from the petroleum industry.
The groups pointed out that the volatility of the country’s black market makes it unlikely the government will be able to stop fuel prices from rising further. They also cited the plunging local currency, the naira, which has rapidly begun depreciating against the dollar since deregulation, as furthering limiting consumers’ ability to purchase basic goods.
In calling for government measures to reverse fuel deregulation, the groups also are pushing for reform in the electricity sector, urging the government to end billing based on estimating electricity usage and make meters available to consumers.
When the government last attempted to deregulate fuel prices in January 2012, striking workers and students shut down airports, offices and shops, paralyzing the country for 10 days. At least 10 people died and hundreds were injured during the strike. Workers returned to their jobs after the government partially restored the fuel subsidy.
Unions also are calling on the government to involve labor in negotiating key policy issues and reverse privatization processes long pushed for by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, including deregulation, which the groups say contravene “the constitutional provision that says government shall be the driver of the economy.”