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ASHGABAT – Apparel brands are being urged not to source cotton from Turkmenistan amid fresh reports that children were mobilised to pick cotton there for the first time in a decade during the last harvest. Forced labour in Turkmenistan’s cotton production is already an internationally recognised concern, with the UN last year urging the country to “promptly put an end to forced labour in the cotton sector.” Meanwhile, in May this year, US Customs and Border Protection issued a formal ban on the importation to the US of “all Turkmenistan cotton or products produced in whole or in part with Turkmenistan cotton.”

Anti-Slavery International is now urging all brands to pledge not to “knowingly source cotton from Turkmenistan due to systematic forced and child labour in the sector.”

In a special dispatch for the Ethical Trading Initiative, Klara Skrivankova, UK and Europe programme manager with Anti Slavery International, claimed: “Turkmen cotton is produced in forced labour conditions.

“Every year, the Turkmen Government forces tens of thousands of civil servants into the fields under threat of punishment, including loss of wages and termination of employment.

“Our partners Alternative Turkmenistan News found that in the last harvest the situation had worsened: in 2017, for the first time in a decade, authorities in some districts also mobilised masses of children to pick cotton.”

Alarmingly, Skrivankova pointed out that Turkmenistan is the 7th largest exporter of cotton in the world, while 80 per cent of Turkmenistan’s cotton exports go to Turkey, Europe’s largest apparel exporter

She added: “As a result, any businesses sourcing from Turkey could have forced labour in their supply chain.”

Anti-Slavery International is urging brands to uphold an existing pledge to not source cotton from Uzbekistan, and to now extend this commitment by signing a pledge, “not to knowingly source Turkmen cotton until the Government of Turkmenistan ends the practice of forced labour in its cotton sector.”

“This will send a clear message to the Turkmen government that international brands will not accept forced and child labour in their supply chains,” Skrivankova added.

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