The production and harvesting of cotton in Turkmenistan remains heavily reliant on a system of forced labor despite the use of mechanical cotton harvesters on some farms and attempts by local authorities to prevent the use of child labor in the cotton fields. Farmers put the problem down to the rigidly centralized agricultural system. It’s the government that tells the farmers what to grow; it’s the government that provides seeds, fertilizers and other supplies. The state even sets dates for the start and finish of the cotton harvest, instead of allowing farmers to decide for themselves when the crop is actually ready.
A rural development program has been in effect in Turkmenistan since 2007. The state media have given it a variety of names over the past 12 years: “the regional development program,” “the village reform program” and simply “the reform program.” It’s not in the public domain but is often referred to in the media and appears extremely significant from the volume of investment alone.
Conscripts have been harvesting the last of the cotton in at least two regions in Turkmenistan, as low pay and freezing weather put off hired laborers.
Conscripts were sent to pick cotton in several districts in the southeast Mary region at the end of November. They wore military uniform and travelled to the fields in army Ural and Kamaz trucks.
Harvesting by hand remains the norm in the cotton fields of Turkmenistan’s southern Mary region. Despite reports in the state-run media of the widespread use of cotton harvesters, observers for Alternative Turkmenistan News failed to find any evidence of the machines out in the fields. Instead, the observers estimate that some 5,600 public sector workers – teachers, doctors, cleaners and others – are forced to go cotton picking every day in the region. In addition, many workers are taken cotton picking for extended periods of 10 days or a month.
Thousands of people in Turkmenistan are again being forced to pick cotton. The autumn harvest began, however, on a positive note, with the authorities taking steps to ensure that classes of schoolchildren are not sent to the fields. Some cotton pickers in the remote north of the country even received increased rates for their work early in the season, but this soon came to an end when forced laborers were brought in
Teachers in Turkmenistan’s second largest city, Turkmenabat, are having to spend their fall break picking cotton. Schools closed on October 21st for the whole nine-day break for the first time in 15 years, and teachers and maintenance staff are having to work in the cotton fields every day.
Human rights defender Gaspar Matalaev has now spent more than two years in prison for the 'crime' of documenting the massive use of forced labour in the cotton fields of Turkmenistan.
In Turkmenistan, it is half-way through the cotton harvesting season. Despite the crop failure and empty cotton fields, local government officials hold daily meetings with chiefs of institutions and demand more people in the fields and more cotton to meet the state plan
To coincide with the Turkmen president’s attendance at the UN General Assembly – the first time since 2015 – apparel companies and global investors have expressed disapproval regarding the nation’s use of statesponsored forced labour in Turkmenistan’s cotton sector.
As a method to remedy this, twelve apparel brands and retailers from around the world have signed the Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN) Turkmen Cotton Pledge, committing not to source cotton from Turkmenistan until forced labour has been eliminated.
Dozens of people have been injured in a bus accident and have been taken to the hospital, eyewitnesses reported to ATN. The crash occurred on August 31st in the eastern city of Turkmenabat. The roughly 40 people on board were kindergarten and secondary school staff, traveling to Farap district, 30 km outside of Turkmenabat, to pick cotton. Due to lack of seats some people had to stand.