The US government has banned all imports of cotton goods from Turkmenistan without specifying the reason. The ban is contained in an order issued by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) service which was made public on May 24.
The ban is likely related to Turkmenistan’s use of child labour and forced labour in cotton harvesting—a common Soviet-era practice, which was recently officially banned in neighbouring Uzbekistan. Activists have been petitioning CBP to shut out imports of goods made of Turkmen cotton.
"...three groups alleged that the Turkmen government forces public-sector employees under threat of punishment, including loss of wages and termination of employment, to pick cotton," the International Trade Group of Crowell & Moring said on its website on May 24.
The groups referred to are the U.S. Cotton Campaign, Alternative Turkmenistan News, and International Labor Rights Forum.
Ruslan Myatiev, editor and founder of Alternative Turkmenistan News, was quoted by RFE/RL as saying that "annually, the Turkmen government forces tens of thousands of public sector employees, including teachers, nurses, and doctors, to pick cotton, pay a bribe or hire a replacement worker, all under threat of punishment, including loss of wages and termination of employment.”
Leading global retailers, including H&M and IKEA, have previously said they no longer use Turkmen cotton and textiles in their products.
The 2016 Global Slavery Index estimated that 15,800 people were believed to be held in "modern slavery" in Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan, primarily economically dependent on gas exports, uses cotton farming to generate employment in the country, while the cotton industry naturally features in plans to develop the Turkmen textile industry. As of today, Turkmenistan produces approximately 1.5mn tonnes of cotton annually.
During Soviet times, the country’s agriculture was almost entirely focused on cotton. It ranked second after Uzbekistan in cotton production in the Soviet Union. However, production fell into decline after the Soviet Union collapsed. The country had to replace cotton with wheat crops. That at least helped to achieve greater self-sufficiency in food production.
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