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LONDON –  Adidas, H&M, and Gap are among 12 brands and retailers to have 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. Other signatories include Columbia Sportswear Company, Designworks Clothing Company, M&S, Nike and VF Corporation.

As we reported recently, Turkmenistan has been hit by 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.”

The worry for brands and retailers is that cotton picked via forced or child labour may be finding itself into supply chains, regardless. Turkmenistan exports the majority of its raw cotton to Turkey, Pakistan, India, and China, where it eventually makes its way into apparel products. Turkey, Europe’s largest apparel exporter, is also the biggest importer of Turkmenistan cotton.

Turkmenistan is a major player in this area. It is the seventh largest producer and seventh largest exporter of cotton in the world, however, the Turkmen cotton industry is completely controlled by the government. As is the case in Uzbekistan, the Government compels farmers to grow cotton and determines quotas they must meet. Many thousands of citizens are forced to harvest cotton each fall.

As well as brand pressure, 42 institutional investors have recently signed a statement urging global home goods and apparel brands and retailers to take action to address exposure to grave human rights abuses in the cotton fields of Turkmenistan.

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