Gaspar Matalaev and Turkmen.news were awarded the Labor Rights Defenders award by the International Labor Rights Forum this past week for their work covering forced labor in Turkmenistan’s cotton industry.
Matalaev, a labor rights activist with Turkmen.news, was arrested in October 2016 just two days after the publication of his extensive report on Turkmenistan’s systematic forced labor in the cotton sector.
Over 100,000 people have signed a Freedom United petition calling for Gaspar Matalaev to be released from jail, and on May 22 protestors gathered at the Embassy of Turkmenistan in Washington DC to present the petition to the ambassador.
Value Walk reports:
While in detention, Matalaev has been tortured by electric shock and held incommunicado. Throughout the investigation and trial, he did not have access to effective legal representation or to key files, information, and documents. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions ruled Matalaev’s deprivation of liberty as arbitrary. Further, the Working Group notes “the appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Matalaev immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law.”
“The Turkmen government has reaped huge profits off the cotton trade at the expense of Turkmen adults and even sometimes children, who are forced to manually harvest cotton each year at considerable risk. Additionally, civil society is severely repressed by the government, and the case of Gaspar Matalaev is just one example of that,” stated Ruslan Myatiev, editor of Turkmen.news.
During the 2018 cotton harvest, the government of Turkmenistan forced tens of thousands of citizens to manually pick cotton. Due to the egregious violation of human rights in the Turkmen cotton sector, in May 2018, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency issued a Withhold Release Order stating the importation of “all Turkmenistan cotton or products produced in whole or in part with Turkmenistan cotton” could be prevented from entering the United States.
“Sourcing cotton from Turkmenistan results in legal, reputational, and economic risks to apparel and home goods brands. Due to this, we are seeing rapid support from brands and investors to take a stand against state-sponsored forced labor practices in the Turkmen cotton industry,” added Patricia Jurewicz, founder of the Responsible Sourcing Network.
Given these supply chain risks, 66 companies have signed the Turkmen Cotton Pledge, effectively refusing to source cotton from Turkmenistan as long as forced labor is present in the country’s cotton industry.
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