United States Maintains Strong Stand Against Forced Labor in Turkmenistan’s Cotton Production Turkmenistan Remains in the Lowest Possible Ranking in the Annual Trafficking in Persons Report
For Immediate Release: June 28, 2018 United States Maintains Strong Stand Against Forced Labor in Turkmenistan’s Cotton Production Turkmenistan Remains in the Lowest Possible Ranking in the Annual Trafficking in Persons Report
Washington, DC – 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.
“We commend the U.S. government for its principled and justified Tier 3 ranking for Turkmenistan. The Turkmen government continues to run one of the world’s largest systems of forced labor in cotton production,” said Patricia Jurewicz, Co-Founder of the Cotton Campaign and Director of Responsible Sourcing Network, an organization that hosts the Cotton Pledge Against Forced Labor in the Cotton Sector of Turkmenistan. “Recently, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection conducted its own investigation and issued an order formally banning imports of forced labor cotton and cotton goods from Turkmenistan.”
Over the past year, the Turkmen government continued to practice state-sponsored forced labor on a massive scale, forcing tens of thousands of workers from the public and private sector, including teachers, doctors, nurses and civil servants, to pick cotton during the cotton harvest, or to pay a bribe or hire a replacement worker to pick cotton instead.
“In the 2017 harvest, despite the national ban to involve children in harvesting cotton, the pressure to fulfill cotton picking quotas led to mobilization of children to pick cotton,” said Ruslan Myatiev, editor and founder of Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN).
Journalists and human rights defenders who attempt to document and report upon forced labor do so at great personal risk and face intimidation, harassment, arrest and imprisonment. ATN reporter Gaspar Matalaev has been imprisoned since October 2016 for his work documenting state-run forced and child labor in Turkmenistan’s annual cotton harvest. On May 23, 2018, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions found that the arrest and deprivation of liberty of Gaspar Matalaev was arbitrary and called on the Turkmen government for his release, compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law.
“Today’s ranking by the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report shows that the Turkmen government cannot continue to organize, orchestrate and benefit from forced labor unnoticed,” said Klara Skrivankova, UK & Europe Programme Manager, Senior Private Sector Advisor at Anti-Slavery International. “For our part, NGOs, unions, industry associations, investors and brands that form the Cotton Campaign will continue efforts to raise corporate, public, governmental and international awareness of the problem and press the Turkmen authorities to implement their human rights commitments”.
The Cotton Campaign calls on the U.S. to redouble its efforts to persuade the authorities in Ashgabat to take urgent action to end forced labor in the cotton sector, including the following steps:
Enforce national laws that prohibit forced labor, including by instructing officials at all levels of government to refrain from using coercion to mobilize citizens to work in the cotton fields and prosecuting any officials that do.
Immediately release human rights defender Gaspar Matalaev from prison and permit citizens to report human rights concerns about the use of forced labor without fear of retaliation.
Allow the Cotton Campaign through its designated representatives to monitor forced labor during the 2018 cotton harvest with unfettered access.
Reform the cotton sector, including by ending mandatory cotton production and harvest quotas while ceasing in the meantime to penalize farmers and citizens who do not fulfill assigned quotas, ensuring financial transparency of cotton expenditures and revenues, and raising and eventually freeing cotton procurement prices.
CONTACT: Cotton Campaign Coordinator - c/o International Labor Rights Forum, 1634 I Street NW, Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20006. +1 202-347-4100, cottoncampaigncoordinator [at] gmail.com