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WASHINGTON – Products made with cotton that was picked using forced labour have been found being retailed on the websites of Amazon, Walmart and ebay. Researchers from the International Labour Rights Forum found cotton hand towels advertised as “made in Turkmenistan” on the websites of Amazon, Walmart, and eBay, raising legitimate questions as to whether products containing Turkmenistan cotton are finding their way into the broader apparel supply chain.

In May 2018, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) banned the import of any products containing cotton from Turkmenistan due to the country’s systematic use of state-sponsored forced labor during the annual cotton harvest. Last last year Adidas, H&M, and Gap were among 12 brands and retailers to sign 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.

Charlotte Tate and Eric Gottwald from the International Labor Rights Forum, who discovered the products for sale on the three websites, said none of retailers are directly importing or selling the products, but instead allowing third-party sellers access to their e-commerce platforms in exchange for a cut of the sales proceeds.

On all three platforms, the actual seller was found to be Goza Towels, a Virginia-based company whose website said it supplies towels, bed sheets, and fabrics made with 100 per cent Turkmenistan cotton.

Goza responded to an inquiry by a Thomson Reuters Foundation reporter by saying they were aware of the ban and were no longer importing Turkmen cotton because of it.

Amazon responded by immediately removing the towels and several other “100 per cent cotton” Goza products from its website, while leaving other items up.

By contrast, we understand that Walmart and eBay continue to allow Goza to sell the towels on their websites and have deflected questions about forced labor to Goza as the third-party seller.

Said Charlotte Tate and Eric Gottwald: “Walmart and eBay’s evasions are disappointing given that they already require third-party sellers to comply with various rules and policies in order to gain access to the marketplaces. For example, all three platforms prohibit the sale of counterfeit goods and have invested considerable resources into enforcing the prohibition with well-publicised crackdowns on sellers who peddle fake merchandise.

“At a minimum, they should update their existing “prohibited products” policies to expressly prohibit the sale of products made with forced labor, actively monitor their marketplaces for the presence of goods at high risk of being produced with forced labor, and enforce the prohibition by removing products and banning serial offenders.”

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