Turkmenistan’s cotton industry relies on forced labor, but despite boycotts and bans, Turkmen cotton products continue to reach world markets.
In Central Asia, Uzbekistan has long been criticized for state-managed forced labor in the cotton industry, but with improvements in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan has become a sharper focus of attention for its continued use of forced labor. .
At the beginning of this year, the Cotton Campaign Call for the world Uzbek cotton boycott which will be lifted after considerable improvements in the fight against forced labour. With over 300 brands signing on to the pledge, there was a huge sigh of relief at the end of the boycott and the opening of doors for the Uzbek cotton industry.
But Uzbekistan is not the only Central Asian cotton exporter. neighboring Turkmenistan is also the subject of a boycott coordinated by the Cotton Campaign against forced labor in the industry, with 141 brands and companies currently adhered. When it comes to cotton products in general, Uzbekistan exports much more than Turkmenistan, but both countries are among the top 25 cotton exporters. And although Turkmenistan’s cotton production pales in comparison to its oil and gas business, the industry remains important in the country.
According to to a report on the 2021 cotton crop in Turkmenistan published last month by Turkmen.news and the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (both members of the Cotton Campaign), the forced labor of public sector employees was “widespread and systematic”. The monitors also recorded cases of child labor in the fields of Turkmenistan. The report covers how labor is forced in Turkmenistan, the conditions in the cotton fields, the experience of farmers, and also forced labor in silk production.
The report also focuses on how Turkmen cotton enters the global supply chain and how it circumvents existing bans to enter the US and European markets.
Generally speaking, Turkmen cotton enters global markets either directly from Turkmenistan as finished or semi-finished products or through supplies in third countries, such as Turkey and China, but also Pakistan and Portugal, which import Turkmen cotton, yarns and fabrics and produce textiles. and other cotton products.
It is this second current that is more difficult to trace. In 2020, more than 60 percent of Turkmenistan’s raw cotton exports went to Turkey (which is also among the world’s leading producers of cotton and cotton products). Meanwhile, Turkey is the third largest supplier of textiles to the European Union. In 2019, Anti-Slavery International released a report noting the prevalence of Turkmen cotton in Turkish products. “The special relationship between Turkey and Turkmenistan is of particular relevance as it leads to a higher prevalence of Turkmen cotton and cotton products in Turkey,” the report notedthen noting the significant number of joint ventures between Turkish companies and the state-controlled cotton industry in Turkmenistan.
Several countries have regulations in place that prohibit the importation of goods produced through forced labor. Most are relatively broad, although mechanisms exist to enact specific prohibitions.
In 2018, for example, the United States banned the importation of all cotton products from Turkmenistan through a “withhold release order” issued by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) given “reasonable evidence” of the use of forced labor in the manufacturing or production of cotton items entering the supply chain Under the order, “All Turkmenistan cotton or products produced wholly or partially from Turkmenistan cotton” may be detained by CBP at the border “until importers can prove the absence of forced labor in the chain.” product supply”. The recent report states: “All products containing Turkmen cotton are contaminated by forced labour”.
In 2021, the Cotton Campaign wrote letters to cram Y fair way, two major online retailers, requesting that they recall certain items containing Turkmen cotton. Neither company has signed the Turkmenistan Cotton Pledge to date, and some cotton items (such as towels) with Turkmenistan is listed as country of origin they will remain available to US customers. This is apparently a violation of CBP’s “hold release order.”
Countless avenues remain for the products of forced labor in Turkmenistan to become household items around the world: Turkmen yarn exported to China woven into sweaters and exported with “Made in China” on the label; Turkmen fabric exported to Italy or Russia and sewn into curtains or dresses. The recent report by Turkmen.news and the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights emphasized that “The only way brands can ensure that their operations are free from forced labor is by mapping their supply chains down to the raw material level and excluding all cotton with Turkmen origins.