(Washington, DC) - Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN) and International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), partners in the Cotton Campaign, today filed a formal complaint against the importation of cotton goods from Turkmenistan, all of which are made with forced labor. Under the recently amended Tariff Act of 1930, U.S. Customs is required to deny entry to goods that arrive at U.S. ports that contain materials made with forced labor.
Turkmenistan is the world’s seventh largest cotton exporter, and the government of Turkmenistan uses forced labor to produce it. Annually the Turkmen government forces farmers to deliver production quotas and tens of thousands of citizens to pick cotton, all under threat of penalty. The government’s use of forced labor violates Turkmen citizens’ fundamental rights and national and international law, and fuels corruption. The government maintains a monopoly on cotton purchasing and sales, and does not disclose any information on cotton income or its use. The government is also responsible for hundreds of forced disappearances; denies freedoms of association, movement, expression and religion; and refuses cooperation with United Nations human rights bodies.
“Forced labor in Turkmenistan’s cotton sector is particularly pernicious for being state-led, industry-wide, and violating the rights of tens of thousands of Turkmen citizens each year,” said Ruslan Myatiev, director at ATN. “We are shocked to learn that Ikea and other companies are using it in their products.”
Turkmen cotton enters global markets via cotton traders that openly buy and sell it around the globe, as well as retailers that source ready-made cotton goods from Turkmenistan. Since Turkmenistan imports no cotton, all cotton goods produced there are made from domestically sourced cotton, all of which is produced in the government’s forced labor system. The world’s largest furniture retailer, Ikea, sells cotton products made in Turkmenistan, and U.S. import records indicate additional companies import cotton goods from Turkmenistan to the United States.
The complaint calls on U.S. Customs to classify cotton goods from Turkmenistan as illicit, issue a detention order on all imports of them, and direct port managers to block their release into the United States.
“With the recently enacted reforms to strengthen the Tariff Act, Congress and the President have made it clear that the United States is serious about banning the importation of any goods produced with forced labor,” said Eric Gottwald, legal and policy director at ILRF. “We expect U.S. Customs will conduct a thorough investigation and effectively ban imports of cotton goods from Turkmenistan.”
The Cotton Campaign is a global coalition of human rights, labor, investor and business organizations dedicated to eradicating child labor and forced labor in cotton production. Alternative Turkmenistan News is a civic media initiative that documents and reports on human rights in Turkmenistan. International Labor Rights Forum is a human rights organization that advocates for workers globally.
Read the full petition, with accompanying evidence, here: