Conscripts have been harvesting the last of the cotton in at least two regions in Turkmenistan, as low pay and freezing weather put off hired laborers.
Conscripts were sent to pick cotton in several districts in the southeast Mary region at the end of November. They wore military uniform and travelled to the fields in army Ural and Kamaz trucks.
Harvesting by hand remains the norm in the cotton fields of Turkmenistan’s southern Mary region. Despite reports in the state-run media of the widespread use of cotton harvesters, observers for Alternative Turkmenistan News failed to find any evidence of the machines out in the fields. Instead, the observers estimate that some 5,600 public sector workers – teachers, doctors, cleaners and others – are forced to go cotton picking every day in the region. In addition, many workers are taken cotton picking for extended periods of 10 days or a month.
Teachers in Turkmenistan’s second largest city, Turkmenabat, are having to spend their fall break picking cotton. Schools closed on October 21st for the whole nine-day break for the first time in 15 years, and teachers and maintenance staff are having to work in the cotton fields every day.
Human rights defender Gaspar Matalaev has now spent more than two years in prison for the 'crime' of documenting the massive use of forced labour in the cotton fields of Turkmenistan.
In Turkmenistan, it is half-way through the cotton harvesting season. Despite the crop failure and empty cotton fields, local government officials hold daily meetings with chiefs of institutions and demand more people in the fields and more cotton to meet the state plan
To coincide with the Turkmen president’s attendance at the UN General Assembly – the first time since 2015 – apparel companies and global investors have expressed disapproval regarding the nation’s use of statesponsored forced labour in Turkmenistan’s cotton sector.
As a method to remedy this, twelve apparel brands and retailers from around the world have signed the Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN) Turkmen Cotton Pledge, committing not to source cotton from Turkmenistan until forced labour has been eliminated.
Dozens of people have been injured in a bus accident and have been taken to the hospital, eyewitnesses reported to ATN. The crash occurred on August 31st in the eastern city of Turkmenabat. The roughly 40 people on board were kindergarten and secondary school staff, traveling to Farap district, 30 km outside of Turkmenabat, to pick cotton. Due to lack of seats some people had to stand.
Anti-Slavery International is urging all brands to pledge not to knowingly source cotton from Turkmenistan due to systematic forced and child labour in the sector, writes Klara Skrivankova, UK and Europe Programme Manager
The U.S. State Department announced today that the government of Turkmenistan remains in the lowest possible ranking, Tier 3, in the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. Countries that would fall into the worst category (Tier 3), are not committed to meeting the minimum standards for the elimination of severe forms of trafficking in persons.
Turkmenistan may represent only 2% of the world’s cotton exports, but the rampant human rights violations in their cotton production demand our attention. Much of the country’s cotton is produced using a system of state-sponsored forced labor. This isn’t widely known, but Turkmenistan can’t fly under the radar and deliver goods produced with numerous human rights violations.