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CALIFORNIA – 42 institutional investors have now signed a statement urging global home goods and apparel brands and retailers to take action to address exposure to human rights abuses in the cotton fields of Turkmenistan. The news comes as pressure is being ramped up on Turkmenistan this week with Turkmen president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, attending the UN General Assembly for the first time since 2015.

“It is a material risk to companies and investors to turn a blind eye to this abuse and do nothing,” Lauren Compere at Boston Common Asset Management said. “As responsible corporate actors, all must state their commitments against modern slavery and implement robust due diligence processes to eliminate sourcing Turkmen cotton until state-sanctioned forced labour in the market has stopped.”

As we recently reported, 12 brands and retailers have already signed the Responsible Sourcing Network’s (RSN) Turkmen Cotton Pledge, which commits companies to not source cotton from Turkmenistan until forced labour in its cotton sector has been eliminated. These companies include: adidas; Columbia Sportswear Company; Designworks Clothing Company; Gap Inc.; H&M Group; M&S; Nike, Inc.; Rowlinson Knitwear Limited; Royal Bermuda, LLC; Sears Holdings; Varner Retail AS; and VF Corporation.

Turkmenistan is the seventh largest producer and seventh largest exporter of cotton in the world, yet the industry is completely controlled by the government.

“It is an egregious system. Journalists reporting on this issue are jailed, preventing the country from moving forward with a free-market system,” Ruslan Myatiev, editor and founder of Alternative Turkmenistan News, said.

Turkmenistan exports the majority of its raw cotton to Turkey, Pakistan, India, and China, where the cotton eventually makes its way into many apparel products and home goods that are shipped around the world.

With the Turkmen president visiting, protesters gathered outside the United Nations headquarters and demanded an end to state-sponsored forced labour in Turkmenistan’s cotton industry. They presented a petition signed by over 84,000 people from around the world that urged the Turkmen government to immediately release Gaspar Matalaev
and allow him to continue his work safety.

Gaspar Matalaev, a reporter with the Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN) who had monitored and reported on the systematic use of forced adult and child labour in Turkmenistan during cotton harvesting, was arrested in October 2016, just two days after ATN published his extensive report on Turkmenistan’s labour practices. While in detention, Matalaev – it is claimed – as been tortured by electric shock and held incommunicado.

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