Complaint Against World Bank Regarding Uzbekistan

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A complaint was filed against the World Bank’s private lending division by a victim of forced labor and three Uzbek human rights defenders.  Defenders included the Cotton Campaign coalition, the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, International Labor Rights Forum, and Human Rights Watch…

The complaint against the International Finance Corporation (IFC) was filed with the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman, an independent accountability unit attached to the IFC. It 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 manufacturing of cotton goods in Uzbekistan allows it to profit from forced labor and to sell illicit goods.

Tikhonov who is in exile in France, explained, “The IFC should support sustainable rural development in Uzbekistan, not projects that perpetuate the government’s forced labor system for cotton production. The ombudsman should investigate the IFC loan to Indorama, which we believe violates international law and the IFC’s own policies prohibiting forced labor.”

This IFC loan to Indorama indicates increasing support by the World Bank for Uzbekistan’s coercive cotton system which amounts to more than US$500 million. The complaint shows concerns that the IFC’s support for the country’s banks does not address the banking sector’s role in supporting the government’s forced labor system.

The loan was approved despite a report from the International Labour Organization reaffirming the problem of forced labor.  The United States’ opposition to the loan is due to “forced labor in the cotton sector.” The US recently gave Uzbekistan’s government the lowest possible rating in its TIP, stating “government-compelled forced labor of adults remains endemic during the annual cotton harvest.”

The elected leader of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan: “Until the Uzbek government stops using coercion and forced labor, companies doing business in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry like Indorama cannot meet fundamental human rights standards or the IFC’s labor standards.”

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