Protest mass forced labor in Turkmenistan

Protesters gathered outside the United Nations headquarters in New York as the General Assembly met on Oct 1, to demand an end to state-sponsored forced labor in Turkmenistan's cotton industry. The small but spirited protest came as Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov arrived for his first visit to the United States in three years. Each year the government of Turkmenistan forces tens of thousands of workers from both public and private sectors to pick cotton during the harvest season or else pay a bribe to supervisors to hire a replacement worker, according to protest organizer Cotton Campaign. This takes place under threat of punishment, including public censure, loss of wages from regular jobs and termination of employment. The government treats refusal to contribute to the cotton harvest as insubordination, incitement to sabotage and "contempt of the homeland."

The demonstration was a part of a campaign to stop forced labor of children and adults in Turkmenistan's cotton sector. The Cotton Campaign is especially calling on UN Secretary General António Guterres to to demand the release of Gaspar Matalaev, a reporter for Alternative Turkmenistan News who  has been imprisoned since October 2016 for his work documenting forced labor in the country. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is akready calling for his release..

In response to the campaign, leading retailers including Adidas, Columbia Sportswear, Designworks, Gap Inc., H&M, Nike, Rowlinson Knitwear, Royal Bermuda, Sears Holdings, Varner Retail, and VF Corporation haave signed the Responsible Sourcing Network's Turkmen Cotton Pledge, which commits companies to not purchase cotton from Turkmenistan until forced labor in its cotton sector has been eliminated. (AKI Press, Kyrgyzstan)