Turkmenistan’s cotton industry relies on forced labor, but despite boycotts and bans, goods made from Turkmen cotton continue to enter world markets.
In Central Asia, Uzbekistan has long been criticized for state forced labor in the cotton industry, but as the situation in Uzbekistan has improved, Turkmenistan has drawn more attention for its continued use of forced labor.
Earlier this year, in Cotton campaign called for the global boycott of Uzbek cotton will be canceled after significant improvements in the solution of the problem of forced labor. With over 300 brands signing the pledge, we breathed a sigh of relief as the boycott ended and the doors opened for the Uzbek cotton industry.
But Uzbekistan is not the only cotton exporter in Central Asia. neighboring Turkmenistan also subject to boycott coordinated by the Cotton Campaign, taking into account forced labor in the industry, 141 brands and companies are currently signed. As for cotton goods in general, Uzbekistan exports much more than Turkmenistan, but both countries are in the top 25 cotton exporters. And while Turkmenistan’s cotton production pales in comparison to its oil and gas business, the industry remains important in the country.
According to the report on the cotton harvest-2021 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 civil servants was “widespread and systematic.” Observers also recorded cases of child labor in the fields of Turkmenistan. The report covers forced labor in Turkmenistan, conditions in the cotton fields, farmers’ experiences, and forced labor in silk production.
The report also details how Turkmen cotton enters the global supply chain and how it circumvents existing bans on US and European markets.
In general, Turkmen cotton enters world markets either directly from Turkmenistan in the form of finished products or semi-finished products, or through shipments to third countries such as Turkey and China, as well as Pakistan and Portugal, which import Turkmen cotton, yarn and fabrics and produce textiles. and other cotton products.
It is this second stream that is more difficult to trace. In 2020, over 60 percent of Turkmenistan’s raw cotton exports went to Turkey (which is also one of the world’s top producers of cotton and cotton products). Turkey, meanwhile, is the third largest supplier of textiles to the European Union. In 2019, Anti-Slavery International released a report noting the dominance of Turkmen cotton in Turkish goods. “The special relationship between Turkey and Turkmenistan is of particular importance as it leads to a wider distribution of Turkmen cotton and its products in Turkey,” the report notescontinuing to point to a significant number of joint ventures between Turkish companies and the state-controlled cotton industry in Turkmenistan.
A number of countries have regulations prohibiting the importation of goods produced using forced labor. Most of these are relatively broad in nature, although there are mechanisms for specific bans.
For example, in 2018, the United States banned the import of all cotton goods from Turkmenistan through “refuse a release orderissued by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), based on “reasonable evidence” of forced labor in the production or manufacture of cotton goods entering the U.S. supply chain. According to the order, “All Turkmen cotton or products made wholly or partly from Turkmen cotton” can be detained by customs at the border “until / until importers prove the absence of forced labor in the supply chain of products.” A recent report states: “All products containing Turkmen cotton are tainted by forced labor.”
In 2021, the Cotton Campaign wrote letters In stock as well as Wafer, two major online retailers, demanding the removal of some products containing Turkmen cotton. To date, none of the companies has signed the Turkmen Cotton Agreement, and some cotton products (for example, towels) Turkmenistan is listed as the country of origin remain available to US customers. This is allegedly in violation of the CBP’s no release order.
There are many ways to turn the products of forced labor in Turkmenistan into household items around the world: Turkmen yarn exported to China is woven into sweaters and exported with “Made in China” on the label; Turkmen fabric was exported to Italy or Russia and sewn into curtains or dresses. A recent report by Turkmen.news and the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights highlights that “the only way brands can ensure their operations are free from forced labor is by mapping their supply chains down to the raw material level and excluding all cotton of Turkmen origin.” “.