The Use of Forced Labor in Cotton Harvesting in Turkmenistan Remains Widespread and Systematic

The Cotton Campaign, an international coalition organization advocating to end forced labor and achieve decent work for cotton workers in Central Asia, has published its annual report on Turkmenistan. It is titled Forced Labor in Turkmenistan Cotton: Critical Moment to Increase Pressure for Change. In 2023 for the first time the Turkmen government took some steps to reduce forced labor in its cotton harvest including:

  • Releasing teachers and doctors of obligation to participate in cotton harvesting or pay for replacement pickers.
  • Inviting the International Labor Organization (ILO) to monitor the harvest. The preliminary findings “indicate direct or indirect evidence of mobilization of public servants in all regions visited”.

Nevertheless, serious challenges remain including:

  • Public sector employees (except teachers and doctors) continued to be mobilized or extorted to pay for a replacement throughout the whole harvest period.
  • Children, while not mobilized by public authorities, participated in the cotton harvest to earn money as replacement pickers or to replace a relative who was required to pick.
  • Farmers had to fulfill state-imposed cotton production quotas at the fixed prices at the threat of penalty, including fines and loss of land. Due to high costs and low income made from cotton production many farmers ended up in debt to the state.
  • The Turkmen government continued to severely repress all civic freedoms and fundamental labor rights.

The report also provided recommendations targeted to different stakeholders:

  • The Turkmen government should enforce national laws that prohibit the use of forced and child labor; hold officials accountable for mobilizing and extorting citizens; fully cooperate with and implement recommendations from international organizations; and enable independent monitors, journalists, and human rights defenders to operate freely and without the threat of reprisal.
  • Foreign governments and international organizations should increase political and economic pressure on the Turkmen government to end forced labor and expand the measures taken in the 2023 harvest through deeper changes.
  • International brands and companies that use cotton should trace their supply chains to the raw materials and ensure they do not source cotton or cotton products from Turkmenistan.

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