Uzbekistan has been a known user of forced labor for agricultural projects, such as harvesting cotton. Nevertheless, the World Bank plans to provide more than $500 million in financing to the Uzbekistan government for agricultural projects.
When the news of the impending loan broke, activists for human rights groups began to gather outside of the World Bank's headquarters in Washington D.C. The protesters contend that the government of Uzbekistan forcibly mobilizes its citizens, pushing them into the fields to raise revenue from the cotton harvest. Uzbekistan has the dubious distinction of running the world's largest state-operated system of forced labor. In fact, pensioners are forced to pick cotton or submit half of their pension, students are threatened with expulsion for failing to participate, and even professionals like teachers and doctors are forced to participate.
Although the practice is widely known, Uzbek authorities still attempt to conceal its practices from the world community. According to the Huffington Post, Uzbekistan routinely claims the mass mobilization is voluntary, despite regular reports of police brutality against those who protest and even the arrest and threats against international observers.
Despite the protests and evidence of mass slavery, including a recent report by the International Labor Organization, the World Bank has so far turned a blind eye to these conditions. To placate protesters, the Bank has promised to suspend its loans to Uzbekistan if it uncovers forced labor. Yet, critics fear the World Bank will turn a blind eye in favor of supporting the developing nation's economic growth.
Some analysts believe that the World Bank may have adopted such an approach for providing a longer-term solution. If Uzbekistan's actions allow it to reach a higher level of economic prosperity, the nation may be able to end these practices via the implementation of technology and better farming techniques. However, many decry the obvious moral implications of such a Machiavellian approach to economic development in the less wealthy nations of the world.
Around the world, protesters have made their opinion of the Bank's position known. Protesters outside of the World Bank's headquarters, petitions with nearly 100,000 signatures, and calls to various media sources for more attention to this issue are but a few of the activities used so far. Activists are calling for the suspension of the financing of Uzbekistan in general, or the use of staged financing as a means of incentivizing the nation to discontinue its practice of forced labor.
However, the World Bank has flatly stated that it does not intend to change its plans now.