COTTON AND FORCED LABOR IN TURKMENISTAN

COTTON IN TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan is the 9th largest producer and 7th largest exporter of cotton in the world, according to the International Cotton Advisory Committee. There are lots of cotton fields in Turkmenistan, many of which wouldn’t be there were it no for water diverted from the Aral Sea. Turkmenistan produced 1,350,000 tons of cotton in 1995. Cooking oil is sometimes still made from cottonseed crushed in a creaking mill, of an ancient design, powered by a blindfolded cow.

Turkmenistan harvests slightly over 1 million metric tons of raw cotton annually, most of which is believed to be exported at global prices. By comparison, last year’s harvest in Uzbekistan was estimated to be 3.35 million metric tons. [Source: Murat Sadykov, Eurasia.net, January 22, 2014]

At a rate of 300 kilograms per citizen, Turkmenistan produces more cotton per capita than any other country in the world. Among the Soviet republics, Turkmenistan was second only to Uzbekistan in cotton production. In 1983 Turkmenistan contributed 12.7 percent of the cotton produced in the Soviet Union. Four of the republic's five provinces are considered to be "cotton provinces": Ahal, Mary, Chärjew, and Dashhowuz. Convinced that cotton is its most marketable product, the post-Soviet government is committed to maintaining previous levels of cotton production and area under cultivation. [Source: Library of Congress, 1996]

Top Producing Countries: (Production, $1000; Production, metric tons in 2008: 1) China, 11133600, 7500000; 2) India, 5621725, 3787000; 3) United States of America, 4141996, 2790200; 4) Pakistan, 2983804, 2010000; 5) Brazil, 1953551, 1315984; 6) Uzbekistan, 1820269, 1226200; 7) Turkey, 999055, 673000; 8) Greece, 430499, 290000; 9) Turkmenistan, 415654, 280000; 10) Syrian Arab Republic, 362213, 244000; 11) Burkina Faso, 335492, 226000; 12) Nigeria, 247908, 167000; 13) Egypt, 237516, 160000; 14) Argentina, 201889, 136000; 15) Australia, 197138, 132800; 16) Benin, 186005, 125300; 17) Mexico, 185560, 125000; 18) Tajikistan, 172941, 116500; 19) Mozambique, 166606, 112232; 20) Kazakhstan, 155870, 105000. [Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO]

Cotton Agriculture in Turkmenistan

In accordance with the Soviet policy of delegating the Central Asian republics as the nation's cotton belt, the area under cotton climbed rapidly from 150,400 hectares in 1940 to 222,000 hectares in 1960, 508,000 hectares in 1980, and 602,000 hectares in 1991. Because independence brought fuel and spare-parts shortages, the cotton harvest declined in the first half of the 1990s, however. [Source: Library of Congress, 1996 *]

Industrial inputs for cotton production such as harvesters, sowing machines, mechanized irrigation equipment, fertilizer, pesticides, and defoliants have become less available to cotton farms in Turkmenistan because the other former Soviet republics, which were the chief suppliers of such items, raised their prices sharply in the first years of independence. *

For most Turkmen farmers, cotton is the most important source of income, although cotton's potential contribution to the republic's economy was not approached in the Soviet period. Experts predicted that by the year 2000, Turkmenistan would process one-third of its raw cotton output in textile mills located within the republic, substantially raising the rate achieved in the Soviet and early post-Soviet periods. In 1993, the state's procurement prices were raised significantly for high-grade raw seeded cotton. State planners envision selling 70 percent of the crop to customers outside the CIS.

Environmental Problem Associated with Cotton in Turkmenistan

The most productive cotton lands in Turkmenistan (the middle and lower Amu Darya and the Murgap oasis) receive as much as 250 kilograms of fertilizer per hectare, compared with the average application of thirty kilograms per hectare. Furthermore, most fertilizers are so poorly applied that experts have estimated that only 15 to 40 percent of the chemicals can be absorbed by cotton plants, while the remainder washes into the soil and subsequently into the groundwater. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Cotton also uses far more pesticides and defoliants than other crops, and application of these chemicals often is mishandled by farmers. For example, local herdsmen, unaware of the danger of DDT, have reportedly mixed the pesticide with water and applied it to their faces to keep away mosquitoes. In the late 1980s, a drive began in Central Asia to reduce agrochemical usage. In Turkmenistan the campaign reduced fertilizer use 30 percent between 1988 and 1989. In the early 1990s, use of some pesticides and defoliants declined drastically because of the country's shortage of hard currency. *

Cotton also sucks up water exacerbating Turkmenistan’s water shortages and contributing to environmental problems such as the drying ip of the Aral Sea. See Environmental Issues and the Aral Sea.

Turkmenistan’s Cotton Agriculture System

According to a Report by Alternative Turkmenistan News: “The government of Turkmenistan maintains total control over the cotton sector. It owns the land and the state-owned bank “Dayhanbank” manages all financial transactions in the cotton sector. Reporting to President Berdymuhamedov, the regional governors oversee the Farmers Associations, which manage farmers, and the local-level officials, which mobilize other citizens to harvest cotton. The state-owned company Turkmenpagta has a monopoly over cotton purchasing from farmers and cotton sales. The government does not report total sales, income or allocations of income from cotton. At every level, the system exploits farmers and the general population for the benefit of the central government.[Source: “Spotlight on Turkmenistan: Widespread State-Orchestrated Forced Labor in Turkmenistan’s 2014 Cotton Harvest” by Alternative Turkmenistan News, July 2015 <^>]

“The Turkmen government compels farmers to grow annual quotas of cotton, wheat and rice. Farmers lease land from the government, through state-controlled farmers associations, for 1-5 years. The state owns all land, and state-controlled farmers associations take away land and assign it to other farmers for failure to fulfill state-assigned production quotas or at the associations’ discretion. <^>

“Under the legislation on private farmers and enterprises, the government dictates use of the land through Farmers Associations. Farmers Associations may take away a farmer’s right to use the land for “irrational and inappropriate use,” under the law. In practice, the Turkmen government orders cotton and wheat production on three quarters of the arable land, and Farmers Associations take away land from farmers for many reasons, including local officials personal views on a farmer concerned.

Since 2009 the state has set a fixed production quota of 2 tons of cotton per hectare. The state maintains a monopoly on cotton purchasing and sales, sets an artificially low procurement price, and does not disclose cotton income or its use. Farmers also report widespread underpayments for their cotton crops. <^>

“The state-owned Turkmenpagta manages procurement and sales of cotton, and the state-owned Dayhanbank manages financial flows in the cotton sector. The bank’s chairman is appointed by President Berdymuhamedov. Annually, Dayhanbank manages credit lines on behalf of Turkmenpagta and in the names of farmers. The farmers purchases inputs for cotton cultivation with checks under their respective credit lines at Dayhanbank. Yet often Farmers Associations physically hold the checkbooks and in fact charge farmers’ accounts for tractors, inputs or other services never provided, resulting in payments to themselves or peers.” <^>

Cotton Production in Turkmenistan

According to the Report by Alternative Turkmenistan News: “The Turkmen government maintains total control of cotton production. The state owns the land, leases it to farmers in exchange for the delivery of state-established production quotas for cotton, monopolizes cotton buying and sales, and maintains artificially low procurement prices. In addition to insecure land tenancy and low procurement prices, local officials underpay farmers by as much as half of what they are owed according to state-established prices. The government maintains total secrecy over cotton procurement and sales, leaving citizens unaware of the national income generated by cotton and unable to demand higher farm-gate prices. [Source: “Spotlight on Turkmenistan: Widespread State-Orchestrated Forced Labor in Turkmenistan’s 2014 Cotton Harvest” by Alternative Turkmenistan News, July 2015 <^>]

“President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov gives cotton production orders to regional governors, who face dismissal if they fail to fulfill their cotton production plan. Governors assign responsibilities to district and city officials, who in turn deliver orders to school administrators, other public institutions, and businesses. Authorities force public sector workers, including teachers, doctors, nurses, and staff of government offices to pick cotton, pay a bribe, or hire a replacement worker, under threat of losing their job. Officials also force businesses to contribute labor, financially or in-kind, under threat of closing the business. The mobilization leaves institutions severely understaffed, undermining education, health care and municipal services. <^>

“During the cotton harvest, Dayhanbank pays into farmers’ accounts for cotton delivered daily, and after the harvest the bank settles each farmers’ account, in December and January. However, most farmers never see the contract stipulating the procurement price and other terms. The Farmers Associations hold the cotton procurement contracts, leaving the farmers in the dark when settling their accounts. <^>

“Since 2007, the state-established cotton procurement price has remained 1,040 manats per ton of Upland cotton (95 percent of cotton grown in Turkmenistan) and 1,500 manats per ton of Pima or long-fiber cotton, despite substantial depreciation of the manat.11 Between January and May 2015, the depreciation of the manat has devalued these prices 20 percent, so a ton of Upland cotton that was $365 in 2014 is now only $297. <^>

Exploitation of Cotton Farmers in Turkmenistan

The Turkmenistan government pays farmers a relatively low price for cotton and then sells the raw cotton abroad at considerably higher market prices. Currently, the government pays the land lessees 1,040 manats ($365) for one ton of cotton harvested. Global prices are around $2,000 per metric ton.

According to the Report by Alternative Turkmenistan News: ““Farmers report much more explicit exploitation throughout the annual cotton production process. State owned companies maintain monopolies over inputs. Obahyzmat is the only source for agricultural equipment, and farmers report it regularly charges for services never provided. Turkmendokun is the only source for fertilizers, and farmers report it charges farmers for more fertilizer than it delivers and cuts fertilizers with fillers. The state owned gins are responsible for transporting cotton from farms to gins and for weighing, grading and recording cotton delivered by the farmers. Farmers report the gin managers fail to transport the cotton yet still charge farmers for the service and then record less volume and a lower grade cotton than what the farmer delivers. [Source: “Spotlight on Turkmenistan: Widespread State-Orchestrated Forced Labor in Turkmenistan’s 2014 Cotton Harvest” by Alternative Turkmenistan News, July 2015 <^>]

“A farmer in Mary Region explained, “The gin staff never under-records the amount delivered by farmers whose relatives are prosecutors, security officers, or high-ranking government officials. For ordinary farmers, it is useless to argue, even though we know we are being cheated. The gin staff under-record the cotton delivered and then sell the excess cotton to farmers who do not fulfill their quotas. Farmers are cheated everywhere, not only at the gins. In the final payment, officials charge 3 percent extra for local taxes and deducts for all kinds of things, even magazine subscriptions. Then they tell us, ‘Don’t spoil relations with us. We contribute to your success, and you don’t lose much for this small amount.’”

“While official statements often claim that farmers earn substantial income, in fact Turkmen farmers receive less than a dollar per day, as demonstrated by the example below. According to a presidential decree, farmers who exceed cotton quotas are eligible to receive a premium rate 30 percent above the regular state procurement price and allowed to sell the excess cotton through the national commodity exchange to either domestic or international buyers.12 Yet farmers must register with the State Commodity Exchange and pay duties to trade on the exchange, and most farmers are not even aware of these options, let alone informed adequately to participate. <^>

“Turkmenpagta manages all 36 state-owned cotton gins in Turkmenistan. Turkmenpagta does not report the volume of cotton it receives. Similarly, the commodity exchange does not report on total cotton sales, and the Central Bank does not report on income from cotton sales. Therefore, the farmers and general population have no idea much income they generate laboring in the cotton fields, much less how the government spends cotton income.” <^>

Also, according to Alternative Turkmenistan News: “We have information that shows that in the majority of cases, when the regional employees of the social sector are used as cheap laborers, the land is owned not by local farmers, but by high-ranking state or regional officials. These officials rent out land under the names of their wives, children, other family members, etc., however they do absolutely nothing by way of harvesting cotton on their land; many of these officials do not even live on this land or even in the region where the land is leased.” [Source: Murat Sadykov, Eurasia.net, January 22, 2014]

Cotton Workers in Turkmenistan

About half the population of Turkmenistan makes a living on the land. Many do little more than pick cotton by hand. Students are used to harvest and plant cotton. Sometimes they are out working in the fields from September to December and for four to six weeks in the spring. There have been reports of soldiers abducting passengers from buses to pick cotton during the cotton picking season.

One man in his 50s asked the writer Paul Theroux: ‘Do you have cotton in America?’ ” “Lots of it,” Theroux said. The man asked how many hectares of cotton were grown in America.” Why is he interested?” Theroux asked a student who could speak English. The man showed Theroux his ruined hands, his twisted fingers. “He picks cotton in the fields near Yoloten, south on the road to Afghanistan, where there are cotton farms,” the student said. [Source: Paul Theroux, The New Yorker, May 28, 2007]

According to the Report by Alternative Turkmenistan News: “The conditions endured by people forced to pick cotton in Turkmenistan in 2014 varied. Most reported receiving the state-assigned payment of 20 tenge (7 cents USD) per kilogram of cotton, and paying more than what they received for food. Several forced laborers reported that farmers provided warm meals and drinking water, a significant improvement from previous years, when both were lacking. Some people brought radios and danced in the evenings. [Source: “Spotlight on Turkmenistan: Widespread State-Orchestrated Forced Labor in Turkmenistan’s 2014 Cotton Harvest” by Alternative Turkmenistan News, July 2015 <^>]

“Yet a few incidents marked the acute risks associated with the forced mobilization to the cotton harvest. In September, temperatures reach 40 degrees Celsius in Turkmenistan’s cotton growing regions, and ATN received 5 reports of people who suffered severe heat stroke. In Turkmenabat, a teacher repeatedly took male students of grades 7-11 to the cotton fields and sexually assaulted them. The students informed their parents, and police investigated the teacher. <^>

Forced Labor and Cotton Production in Turkmenistan

The government of Turkmenistan has used a forced labor system of cotton production for decades. According to a Report by Alternative Turkmenistan News: “The government of Turkmenistan uses a forced labor system of cotton production. Annually the government forces tens of thousands of citizens to pick cotton and farmers to deliver production quotas, all under threat of punishment. Authorities force public sector workers, including teachers, doctors, nurses, and staff of government offices to pick cotton, pay a bribe, or hire a replacement worker, under threat of losing their job. Officials also force businesses to contribute labor, financially or in-kind, under threat of closing the business. The mobilization leaves institutions understaffed, undermining education, health care and municipal services. [Source: “Spotlight on Turkmenistan: Widespread State-Orchestrated Forced Labor in Turkmenistan’s 2014 Cotton Harvest” by Alternative Turkmenistan News, July 2015.Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN) is a civil media initiative developed in 2010 and run by Turkmen exiles who partner with Amnesty International and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. ATN researched the information for this report with a network of key informants in Turkmenistan. Turkmen government officials, farmers, rural residents, publicsector workers and businessmen provided first-hand accounts, documentary evidence and photographs to ATN. ATN www.habartm.org <^>]

“ Forced labor cotton from Turkmenistan enters supply chains of global apparel brands multiple ways. Cotton trading companies report that they purchase cotton throughout Central Asia. The Turkmen government claims that several Western apparel companies purchase from Turkmenbashy Jeans Complex, a joint venture of the Turkmen government and Turkish investors, on the company website. <^>

“By using forced labor, the Turkmen government violates its national laws and the International Labour Organization Conventions prohibiting forced labor. Fear silences most citizens. The Turkmen government is also responsible for hundreds of forced disappearances; denies freedoms of association, movement, expression and religion; and refuses cooperation with United Nations human rights bodies. <^>

“ With just over 5 million people, Turkmenistan is a country with the smallest population in Central Asia and only rarely receives global attention. Yet the tens of thousands of Turkmen people are forced to labor in the cotton fields each year by their government. The Turkmen government uses secrecy, fear and denial of economic opportunity to orchestrate and benefit from a forced labor system of cotton production. By forcing citizens to work, the Turkmen government violates International Labour Organization Convention No. 105 on the Prohibition of Forced Labour and section 8 of its national Labor Code. <^>

Forced Labor in the Turkmenistan Cotton Sector in 2014

According to the Report by Alternative Turkmenistan News: “The state-owned enterprise Turkmenpagta assigns annual production quotas to each farmer in the land lease contract. Farmers Associations, the local-level government agencies responsible for overseeing agricultural production, directly manage the farmers and report to the regional governors. The regional governors also order the education, health care and other government agencies in their region their staff into teams of field workers. Pressure to demonstrate successful and quick completion of the cotton harvest led to falsification of reporting. [Source: “Spotlight on Turkmenistan: Widespread State-Orchestrated Forced Labor in Turkmenistan’s 2014 Cotton Harvest” by Alternative Turkmenistan News, July 2015 <^>]

“President Berdymuhamedov announced the start of the cotton harvest August 20 and simultaneously ordered its completion by October 31. The governor of Lebap region Mukhammet Dzhoraev ordered the completion of its region’s cotton quota by October 20, prior to the meeting of the Conference of the Council of Elders, a national advisory group to the Turkmen government with significant influence over legislation. Farmers Associations falsify reports of the quantity of cotton delivered in order to give the impression they will comply with the deadline. Typically, the Association establishes an informal agreement with the local cotton processing plant, statistical office, and district mayor on “early” execution of the plan. Then the Association reports completion of its cotton quota by the president’s deadline, even if it is not actually completed. Many Associations report completion when they reach 70 percent of their target, then continue harvesting the remaining 30 percent in November and December and do not include this cotton in the daily reports. <^>

“The government uses coercion to ensure compliance with the cotton production plan. The president threatens regional governors with the loss of their positions for failure to fulfill their regional cotton target. Regional and district-level officials threaten the heads of Farmers Associations with the loss of their jobs if they do not fulfill their cotton quotas. Heads of Farmers Associations threaten farmers with the loss of their land for failure to deliver their cotton quotas. The first time a farmer falls short of the production quota, the Farmers Association is likely to penalize him with a reprimand or a fine, but the second time it is likely to result in the loss of the lease to farm the land. <^>

Forced Cotton Labor Among Public-Sector Workers in Turkmenistan

According to the Report by Alternative Turkmenistan News: “In 2014, the Turkmen government once again forced tens of thousands of citizens to pick cotton and farmers to deliver production quotas under threat of punishment....Authorities began systematic forced mobilization of citizens to the cotton fields for the harvest on 20August. The government first sent rural residents, then manual workers (e.g. custodians, guards and warehouse workers), and finally the public-sector workers from the cities. [Source: “Spotlight on Turkmenistan: Widespread State-Orchestrated Forced Labor in Turkmenistan’s 2014 Cotton Harvest” by Alternative Turkmenistan News, July 2015 <^>]

“Officials ordered citizens to check in at 6:00 in the morning at their municipal government office. From there, the authorities arranged buses to transport people to the cotton fields. The forced laborers picked cotton for ten hours per day, from 8:00 AM until 6:00 PM. In the Lebap region, officials sent municipal workers to harvest cotton in the Dovletli area. In the Balkan region of western Turkmenistan, officials sent municipal workers to pick cotton in the Akhal district. Most municipal workers were sent in groups to pick cotton for a month in 2014. <^>

“The daily quota for cotton picking was 20-50 kilograms per person. Administrators of public institutions enforced the quotas with threats of dismissal, shorter work hours, or docked pay. For example, several teachers reported that they had been penalized for refusing to go to the cotton fields in 2014: administrators fired some teachers and reduced the hours and salary of others. In the face of the harsh penalties, most people comply and pick cotton, fearing that they will not find another job because of high unemployment levels.” <^>

“Most government agencies forced employees to pick cotton in 2014. Administrators of stateowned banks, factories, and the government agency offices forced employees to sign a form indicating their awareness that they will “bear the responsibility” if they refuse to pick cotton. Most organizations sent workers in shifts. <^>

“Some public-sector workers avoided picking cotton by hiring another person to fulfill their harvest quota. A few government agencies did not send any employees but instead collected payments from them, purportedly to hire people to fulfill the agencies’ harvest quota. Employees reported having to pay 15 – 30 manats ($5 - $10) per day. This practice was most common among banking, healthcare and oil and gas sectors. For example, the state-owned Dashoguz Gas Supply company collected money from its employees. The Dashoguz workers reported they had no idea how their money was used, but they were relieved to not pick cotton. <^>

Students and Teachers Used to Pick Turkmenistan Cotton

Radio Free Europe’s Turkmen Service said in 2014 that teachers shepherded their students to the cotton fields on an "unprecedented" scale, with girls as young as 10 spotted picking cotton. According to the Report by Alternative Turkmenistan News: “Despite national laws prohibiting child labor and a 2008 ban of child labor in the cotton sector, children continue to do the hazardous field work, because the government maintains the cotton production system. Children pick cotton for their parents, who are forced by the government to fulfill individual cotton picking quotas under threat of losing their jobs. [Source: “Spotlight on Turkmenistan: Widespread State-Orchestrated Forced Labor in Turkmenistan’s 2014 Cotton Harvest” by Alternative Turkmenistan News, July 2015 <^>]

“The first school staff forced to the cotton fields in 2014 were the custodians and security guards. In Lebap, teachers and staff were required to pick cotton two weekdays and each Sunday throughout the harvest. In the Dashoguz region, school administrators sent teachers to pick cotton several days a week. <^>

“Teachers of all grade levels were forced to pick cotton in the Lebap and Mary regions. Administrators forced teachers of the upper grades (7-11) to harvest cotton, in groups of approximately 15, for three-day shifts, and they forced teachers of lower grades to the cotton fields typically every other day after the school day. Some schools also sent upper-level students (age 18 and older) to pick cotton after classes each day. <^>

“Many school administrators ordered teachers to contribute financially, apparently so that the administrator could hire workers instead of sending the teachers. The administrators demanded payments of 10 – 20 manats ($3.50 - $7.00) per day. In some schools, especially primary schools, administrators mobilized parents to pick cotton in an apparent attempt to keep the teachers in the classrooms. <^>

Forced Cotton Labor Among Private-Sector Workers in Turkmenistan

According to the Report by Alternative Turkmenistan News: “For the 2014 cotton harvest, the Turkmen government also forced small, medium and large businesses to contribute labor to the cotton harvest, in addition to the public-sector workers. “Now everybody should be in the fields,” said the police in Tejen, Ahal region, talking to the traders in the city’s market. Starting September 21, the Tejen municipal government limited the business hours of the markets and grocery stores to evening hours only. The municipal government was responding to President Berdymuhamedov, who denounced the slow pace of the cotton harvest in Ahal region earlier in September. Authorities of Galkynysh district of Lebap region also closed the markets, and in some areas the authorities also closed pharmacies. [Source: “Spotlight on Turkmenistan: Widespread State-Orchestrated Forced Labor in Turkmenistan’s 2014 Cotton Harvest” by Alternative Turkmenistan News, July 2015 <^>]

“Authorities forced the owners of small businesses- market vendors, retail stores, cafés, beauty salons, shoe and clock repair shops- and others to close their businesses and pick cotton. Upon request from the city officials, the business owners had to provide a form signed by the farmer as proof of their work in the cotton fields. <^>

“The Turkmenabat region Deputy Governor ordered medium and large businesses to send employees to pick cotton during the first week of September. The business owners reported being threatened with “audit, finance department, tax inspection, fire inspection and with other similar agencies” if they refused to comply. One business owner reported he negotiated with the government officials to send 8 instead of 15 employees to the Jeyhun farm in Serdarabat region. “Over the past three years we have been ‘kindly’ asked to repair the curbs 4 times, to change the lights 3 times, and to lay asphalt 5 times,” said the business owner. <^>

“The Turkmen government also forced private bus owners to contribute, by transporting forced laborers to the cotton fields. The private bus drivers supplemented the use of public buses, which were diverted from their usual routes to take people to the fields throughout the harvest. The police pulled over and took away the licenses of any drivers who refused to comply. Furthermore, disputes regularly broke out between farmers and bus drivers, who demanded payment for transporting the cotton pickers, between 50 - 100 manats ($17 - $35). The farmers often refused to pay, because they did not ask for people to pick the cotton. The drivers complained that city officials demanded they transport people without paying for the service, leaving the drivers to cover the costs. <^>

T-Shirts Made with Turkmenistan Forced Labor

According to the Report by Alternative Turkmenistan News: “There are two ways forced labor cotton from Turkmenistan enters global apparel supply chains. First, commodity trading companies purchase cotton from the state-owned Turkmenpagta through the Turkmen commodity exchange. The cotton is exported to major apparel sourcing centers, such as Bangladesh and China, and eventually ends up in consumer products sold on retail shelves around the world. Second, 70 percent of Turkmen cotton fiber was processed domestically in 2014, and state-owned companies report that they sell cotton apparel to global companies. [Source: “Spotlight on Turkmenistan: Widespread State-Orchestrated Forced Labor in Turkmenistan’s 2014 Cotton Harvest” by Alternative Turkmenistan News, July 2015 <^>]

“Textile exports account for 7-9 percent of Turkmenistan’s national income. Companies from Turkey, South Korea and Japan are the main private investors in the Turkmen textile sector. According to the Ministry of Textiles, 32 textile companies produced 200,000 tons of yarn, 190 million square meters of cotton fabric, 11,000 tons of knitted fabric, 8,000 tons of woven fabric, and 80 million units of garments in 2013. Furthermore, by 2020 the Turkmen government plans to invest in a processing plant in each cotton growing district, double yarn production, and increase fabric production four times. <^>

“Among Turkmenistan’s textile factories is the joint venture "Turkmenbashy Textile Complex," owned by the Turkish company "Chalik Holding" and Turkmen government. The textile complex reports annual sales of $76 million of yarn, fabric and ready-made garments, 90 percent of which is exported. On its website, the company lists the following companies as its clients: Levi, Lee, Wrangler, Cherokee, Foot Locker, Nautica, Wal-Mart, Target, VF Corporation, Marc Ecko (USA); H&M, Lindex, Gekås Ullared (Sweden); Tesco, Debenhams (United Kingdom); Celio, La Redoute (France); Mango, Bershka, Lefties (Spain); C&A (the Netherlands); X-Side (Poland); LC Waikiki (Turkey).

Fear and Forced Labor in the Turkmenistan Cotton Sector

According to the Report by Alternative Turkmenistan News: “The government of Turkmenistan violates international and national laws by forcing farmers and other citizens to work in the cotton sector. In 2014, officials forced tens of thousands of public- and private-sector workers to pick cotton under threats of losing their jobs or salary. [Source: “Spotlight on Turkmenistan: Widespread State-Orchestrated Forced Labor in Turkmenistan’s 2014 Cotton Harvest” by Alternative Turkmenistan News, July 2015 <^>]

Turkmenistan is one of the largest cotton exporters in the world. Yet the people do not benefit and instead are deprived of their fundamental labor rights. The Turkmen government uses coercion in the cotton production and, under threat of loss of livelihoods, forces its citizens to pick cotton and farmers to fulfill production quotas. <^>

“Out of fear of reprisals, Turkmen people do not resist orders to participate in the cotton production. The fear is reinforced by the general climate of oppression and human rights violation, where the state denies civic and political rights, freedom of association and expression, and holds citizens in incommunicado detention merely for raising concerns. High unemployment levels strengthen the impact of the authorities’ threats of dismissal for non-participation in the harvest or docked pay. <^>

Recommendations on Forced Labor in the Turkmenistan Cotton Sector

According to the Report by Alternative Turkmenistan News: “Alternative Turkmenistan News urges the Turkmen government to end its use of forced labor and calls on the international community to use its influence to press the Turkmen government to reform. Alternative Turkmenistan News urges the government of Turkmenistan to undertake fundamental reforms of the cotton sector and calls on Turkmenistan’s international partners, including governments, intergovernmental organizations, international financial institutions, and multinational companies to use their influence to press the Turkmen government to end the use of forced labor. [Source: “Spotlight on Turkmenistan: Widespread State-Orchestrated Forced Labor in Turkmenistan’s 2014 Cotton Harvest” by Alternative Turkmenistan News, July 2015 <^>]

“Key Recommendations: To the Government of Turkmenistan: 1) Enforce national laws that prohibit forced labor, including by- o instructing officials at all levels of government to refrain from using coercion to mobilize citizens to work in the cotton fields and o prosecuting any officials that do; 2) Permit citizens to report human rights concerns about the use of forced labor without fear of retaliation; 3) Invite the International Labour Organization to monitor forced labor during the 2015 cotton harvest with unfettered access and the participation of the International Trade Union Confederation and International Organisation of Employers; 4) Reform the cotton sector, including the ending mandatory cotton production and harvest quotas while ceasing in the meantime to penalize farmers and citizens who do not fulfill assigned quotas, o ensuring financial transparency of cotton expenditures and revenues, and o raising and eventually freeing cotton procurement prices. <^>

“To the United States and European Union: 1) Urge the Turkmen government to end state-sponsored forced labor in bilateral meetings and reports; 2) Place Turkmenistan in Tier 3 of the US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report; 3) Require the Turkmen government to demonstrate concrete progress towards the elimination of forced labor prior to signing Partnership Cooperation Agreement with the European Union; and 4) Exercise ‘voice and vote’ at the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to prevent any investment that would benefit the Turkmen government’s forced-labor system for cotton production. <^>

“To the World Bank and Asian Development Bank: Require the Turkmen government to demonstrably implement its laws prohibiting forced labor prior to consideration of any projects in the Turkmen agriculture sector. To Multinational Companies: 1) Investigate and disclose any cotton from Turkmenistan in the company’s supply chain; and 2) Prepare to replace cotton from Turkmenistan if the Turkmen government continues the forced labor system of cotton production. <^>

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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