The Cotton Campaign strongly recommends that the Department of State continues to issue a Tier 3 ranking to Turkmenistan, as the government continues to deny that it uses forced labor in cotton harvesting and has made no efforts to address or combat the drivers of systematic, government-sponsored forced labor.
During the 2019 cotton harvest (September through end December), as with previous years, the Cotton Campaign worked closely with Turkmen.news (formerly Alternative Turkmenistan News), which uses a network of trained, independent monitors to obtain on the ground information, including observations, interviews, video and audio recordings, and documentary evidence regarding forced labor. These monitors do not work publicly, as human rights monitoring and any perceived government criticism carries serious risk of reprisals. The information below comes from the reports of these independent monitors.
The cotton production system in Turkmenistan remains highly centralized, top-down, and controlled by the government. Orders for public sector employees to pick cotton or pay for replacement pickers were passed from government officials through agencies to heads of institutions. In 2019 the government continued to rely on forced labor to harvest cotton, requiring increasing numbers of public sector employees to pay to hire pickers to go to the fields in their place under threat of dismissal. The rate employees had to pay depended on the region, type of institution, and directives of their management. For example, by October 22, 2019 Senagat bank staff in Lebap region paid 800 manats (approximately US$45) to hire pickers. Officials collected money from public sector employees to hire replacement pickers until the very end of December 2019.
The 2019 harvest season was poor in the country as a whole, but in two cotton growing areas of Turkmenistan, Ahal and Mary regions, it was a failure. As of October 22, 2019, only some 40% of the state plan for cotton harvesting had been fulfilled in these regions. The reasons for the poor harvest were shortages of water, fertilizers, and agricultural equipment, and a pest infestation.
Due to failure to meet the plan, authorities imposed fines on dozens of farmers in Ahal and Mary regions of up to 1,440 manats (approximately US$80) per metric ton of shortfall and had their land confiscated. Despite the increase in the purchase price and the right to grow vegetables or other crops at the farmers’ discretion on 30% of the leased land, some farmers are giving up on leasing land from the state, because growing cotton when there is a shortage of water, equipment, and fertilizers not only fails to make a profit for the tenant farmers, it can put them in debt. For many farms, migrant work abroad is an alternative to painstaking but unprofitable work in the cotton fields.
The Cotton Campaign strongly believes that Turkmenistan does not meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards and is not making significant efforts to do so, thus should continue to receive a Tier 3 ranking.