Right now, it’s cotton-picking season in Turkmenistan and the authoritarian government is using the forced labor of thousands of teachers, health-care workers, and other state employees to collect the harvest. State agencies in eastern Lebap Province have reportedly been ordered to send 50 percent of their staff to pick cotton during weekdays and all employees must head to the fields over the weekends.
Pick cotton or lose your job
Turkmenistan has about 580,000 hectares of cotton fields and the government has set a goal of harvesting 1.25 million tons of cotton this year. According to anonymous local sources interviewed by Radio Free Europe, this means workers are being required to pick 20-25 kilos of cotton a day in order to meet the daily quota needed.
One energy sector employee said:
“There is no way to escape it. If you don’t go you will get fired. There were representatives of the regional government in the field, checking who has come to work and who wasn’t present,”
The only way out of the grueling manual labor in 100-degree weather is with a bribe of around $115 to $140 to an official or you can hire a replacement picker for about $8.50 to $14 a day. But most cannot afford the price as their pay is less than the $14 a day needed to hire a replacement.
Government claims of modern machinery never materialize in the fields
Turkmenistan state media regularly report that they purchased hundreds of tractors and other types of modern cotton-picking machinery from international brands. But workers in the fields say they have never seen these machines and each year pick the cotton manually.
A teacher who was interviewed said:
“There was a heavy rain in the Gyzylarbat district [on August 20] and we were in the mud up to our knees while picking cotton.”
Human rights defenders and international organizations regularly attack Turkmenistan for its state-sponsored use of forced labor in their cotton harvest every year. However, in spite of compelling evidence the government denies forcing employees, students, and soldiers to pick cotton.
Make Turkmenistan and other state-sponsored forced labor come clean!
Using state-sponsored forced labor in the cotton supply chain isn’t unique to Turkmenistan as seen by the forced labor in the Uyghur region and legislation around the world trying to clean up the cotton supply chain. Freedom United stands beside those human rights organizations trying to hold authoritarian governments like Turkmenistan and China accountable and expose the dirty cotton they feed into global markets.