Hospital staff in Uzbek cotton fields in World Bank project area.
Drugged, beaten and detained by police – this was the fate of Elena Urlaeva when she dared to document state-sponsored slavery in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan.1
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, who report on the conditions of the harvest are routinely detained, harassed and physically assaulted, while journalists who attempt to document the truth are detained and deported.
What’s worse is that there are international actors helping Uzbekistan keep its dirty secret – including the World Bank and its private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation.
The World Bank Group is an international institution that provides loans for developing countries. Right now it is providing almost $500 million to Uzbek agriculture projects.2 The World Bank signed a contract agreeing to suspend certain loans if evidence of forced labor was uncovered.
Yet despite two years of documented proof showing forced labor continues on World Bank project sites, particularly in the poor and vulnerable region of Karakalpakstan, the World Bank has not suspended its loans.
Reports from brave civil society monitors, who risk their personal safety, have found teachers and healthcare professionals coerced into weeding and preparing fields for the annual harvest.
Send a message to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim now that the Bank must cease these loans to support state-administered forced labor in Uzbekistan!