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The World Bank is funding half a billion dollars in agricultural projects linked to forced and child labour in Uzbekistan, Human Rights Watch and the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights said in a report released today.

Under the loan agreements, the Uzbek government is required to comply with laws prohibiting forced and child labour, and the World Bank can suspend the loans if there is credible evidence of violations.

The 115-page report, dubbed, “We Can’t Refuse to Pick Cotton: Forced and Child Labour Linked to World Bank Group Investments in Uzbekistan,” details how the Uzbek government forced students, teachers, medical workers, other government employees, private-sector employees, and sometimes children to harvest cotton in 2015 and 2016, as well as to weed the fields and plant cotton in the spring of 2016. The government had threatened to fire people, stop welfare payments and suspend or expel students if they refuse to work in the cotton fields.

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“The World Bank is giving Uzbekistan cover for an abusive labour system in its cotton industry,” said Umida Niyazova, Director of the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights. “The World Bank needs to make clear to the Uzbek government and to potential investors that it wants no part of a system that depends on child and forced labour by suspending funding until these problems are solved.”

The World Bank’s support for these projects has created the impression that Uzbekistan is working to end forced labour in good faith, when it is not, confusing responsible companies and governments, Human Rights Watch and the Uzbek-German Forum said.

In recent weeks the Uzbek-German Forum found that the government is once again forcing its citizens, including children, to weed the cotton fields and plant cotton as well as plant pumpkins, tomatoes, and other agriculture products.

Source: hrw.org

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