International Workers, Employers, Governments Call on Turkmenistan to End Forced Labour
(Русский вариант) The International Labour Organization conference recommends the Turkmen government take urgent and serious action to end forced labour in the cotton sector.
(Geneva, June 13, 2016): The government of Turkmenistan should urgently act to end systematic forced labour in the cotton sector, said the worker, employer, and government members of the International Labour Organization in the Committee on the Application of Standards conclusions of its hearing of forced labour in Turkmenistan. The CAS is the tripartite supervisory body of the ILO tasked with assuring all governments abide by international labour standards and just released its conclusions regarding Turkmenistan.
The ILO CAS members urged the Turkmen government to “take effective measures in law and in practice to ensure that no one, including farmers and public and private sector workers, is forced to work for the state sponsored cotton harvest;” prosecute officials who forcibly mobilize workers; seek the ILO’s technical assistance to apply labour conventions; and to allow workers, employers and civil society organizations to monitor without fear of reprisals.
“We commend the international representatives of workers, employers and governments for strong recommendations to the Turkmen government,” said Ruslan Myatiev, director at Alternative Turkmenistan News. “We call on the Turkmen government to immediately begin implementing the ILO’s recommendations, end its forced-labour system of cotton production, and cease the repression it uses to sustain it. The government should start with immediately releasing arbitrarily imprisoned journalist Saparmamed Nepeskuliev.”
During the CAS hearing, employers, workers, and government spokespersons highlighted that forced labour in cotton production in Turkmenistan is state-orchestrated, systematic and widespread. The Turkmen government forces farmers to deliver state-established annual cotton production quotas and thousands of workers to pick cotton under threats of loss of land, employment or wages. As the U.S. workers spokesperson stated, these “shocking human rights violations cannot persist.”
The ILO members also underscored the Turkmen government’s denial of civil rights as an impediment to eradicating forced labour. The European Union expressed concern about the lack of freedoms of association, expression and movement as well as arbitrary detentions. The U.S. employers noted that “without a free press and robust civil society, the ability of companies to identify and monitor potential violations of human rights in the supply chain is hampered.” The Swedish workers reiterated that social dialogue is “an important tool for eliminating labour rights abuses” and yet requires respect for freedom of association and other fundamental rights.
“Companies simply cannot use materials or purchase products made with forced labor,” said Jesús Echavarría, Chief Communications & Corporate Affairs Officer at Inditex Group. “We therefore banned any business of our suppliers with the Turkmen cotton industry until the Turkmen government stops using forced labour and permits citizens to report concerns without fear of reprisal.”
During the hearing, the Turkmen government highlighted that its labour code prohibits forced labour and its plans for constitutional reform contemplate a constitutional prohibition of forced labour. In concluding remarks, the government stated it “wished to continue to cooperate with the ILO on the issues raised [forced labour],” a commitment welcomed by the CAS.