Swedish multinational clothing company H&M banned its cotton suppliers from buying cotton from Turkmenistan in December 2015, according to the company’s website. The company imposed a similar ban on cotton supplies from Uzbekistan in 2013.
H&M’s ban is based on the company’s policy against using underage workers and forced labour. In Turkmenistan and neighbouring Uzbekistan, using forced labour and child labour in the cotton industry is a practice that had been widely used in the Soviet Union when participation in agricultural harvesting was mandatory for schoolchildren from rural areas and university students.
During the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan’s agriculture was almost entirely focused on cotton. The country ranked second after Uzbekistan in cotton production in the Soviet Union. However, cotton production went on a relative decline after the fall of the Soviet Union, as the country had to replace cotton fields with wheat in order to achieve greater self-sufficiency in food products.
Turkmenistan’s cotton harvest amounted to 1.1mn tonnes of raw cotton in 2015, below 1.5mn tonnes harvested in 2014. Raw cotton is the third most important export item in Turkmenistan, amounting to $298mn in 2013, behind petroleum products ($1.08bn) and gas ($8.07bn). The country’s cotton exports stood at 300,000 tonnes in the 2014-2015 marketing year ending June 30, down by 25% y/y, according to research and marketing company Cotton Incorporated.
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