The governments of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan use forced labor to produce cotton on an industry-wide scale and for the sole benefit of government elites. The two countries are the fifth-largest and seventh-largest cotton exporters in the world and do not import any cotton, presenting companies worldwide with the risk of forced-labor cotton tainting their brand.
In Uzbekistan, in 2012 citizens called on companies worldwide to boycott cotton from Uzbekistan until the Uzbek government ends its forced labor system of cotton production. More than 200 brands have signed a pledge not to source cotton from Uzbekistan while forced labor continues, and many have ceased business with companies that knowingly continue to benefit from forced labor in Uzbekistan, including Daewoo International and Indorama Corporation. However, most cotton exports from Uzbekistan go to China and Bangladesh, where the forced labor cotton enters the mostly opaque supply chains of global apparel companies and ends up on the shelves of retail stores around the world.
The government of Uzbekistan has also obliged multinational companies to make a contribution to the cotton harvest as a prerequisite to doing business in the country. Companies operating in non-cotton sectors in Uzbekistan have reported that but for contributing to the cotton harvest, the company would not receive the benefit of operating in Uzbekistan.
In Turkmenistan, citizens have reported on the government’s use of forced labor despite extreme state censorship. Independent reporting has led multiple brands to boycott cotton from Turkmenistan until the Turkmen government ends its forced labor system of cotton production. However, companies continue to invest in the Turkmen textile sector, including the Turkish company Calik Holding Company, and 80% of Turkmenistan’s cotton exports go to Turkey, Europe’s second-largest apparel supplier.
Companies that use cotton and companies that operate in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have the responsibility to ensure their operations and business relationships do not support or benefit from forced labor in the cotton sector in Uzbekistan. Read about the steps companies should take: