On December 24, 2013 the World Bank Inspection Panel published its eligibility report for the RESP-II agriculture project in Uzbekistan. The Panel stated that there were potentially valid concerns raised by the requesters about the link between the World Bank project and harm caused by widespread and systematic forced child and adult labor. The Panel wrote that “The Panel’s review of the relevant documentation, the Panel team’s observations in the field, and its discussions with Requesters, affected people and development partners, indicate that these harms [forced child and adult labor] can indeed be characterized as serious. Both Requesters and Management also perceive them to be serious but do not agree as to their linkage with the project. It is the Panel’s view meanwhile that a plausible link does exist between the project and these alleged harms.”
The RESP II project directs funds to Uzbekistan’s agriculture sector, a sector whose most important crop, cotton, is harvested through the use of widespread, government orchestrated forced adult and child labor. The United States, European Union, United Nations, International Labor Organization, private companies and a numerous non-governmental organizations have condemned the Uzbek government for orchestrating forced child labor. Foreign governments have rejected trade deals with Uzbekistan in opposition to forced adult and child labor. US stores, including Carter’s and Walmart have prohibited the use of Uzbekistan cotton in its products. Yet, the World Bank continues to fund agricultural projects and ignore the government’s systematized use of forced adult and child labor.
In its social impact assessment for the RESP-II project, the Bank failed to list forced labor as a risk; it also ignored that child labor is not incidental or arranged by families or communities but rather is systematic and coerced. Instead of identifying the internationally-recognized issue of government-orchestrated child labor as a risk, the World Bank expressed concern that civil society organizations might raise attention to the issue of child labor. The backward priorities and concerns demonstrate attitude toward NGOS that management does not welcome constructive engagement from civil society.
In its eligibility report the Panel concluded that it “considers that the Project is plausibly linked to the harms alleged in the Request, and that the Request raises important issues of harm and policy non-compliance. The Panel has also determined that the Request meets the technical eligibility criteria for an investigation.” However, the Panel decided to defer its recommendation for one year to see whether progress could be made towards ending the practice of forced adult and child labor in the country. The Inspection Panel is set to report back to the board “within 12 months”.
The Panel went on to state that “The Panel considers that the Request for Inspection raises significant issues of policy compliance. While the Panel does not make definitive findings at this stage in its process, the Panel observes that, in the early years of the project, there may have been insufficient due diligence in addressing the concerns about harm and related issues of policy compliance raised in the Request within the framework of Bank policies, including at the time of Project approval.”