It’s been four months since Swedish retailer H&M banned its suppliers from buying cotton from Turkmenistan, and now two human rights groups want U.S. Customs to stop any imports that arrive stateside from the Central Asian country containing the fiber.
The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) and Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN) on Wednesday filed a formal complaint against the importation of cotton goods from Turkmenistan. The two groups, partners in the Cotton Campaign, claimed all such items are produced using forced labor and that, according to the recently amended Tariff Act of 1930, customs officials are required to deny entry to any imports that arrive at the ports containing materials made in that way.
Turkmenistan is the world’s seventh largest cotton exporter. The complaint alleged that the country’s government has forced farmers to deliver production quotas and made thousands of citizens pick cotton, all under threat of penalty, while denying freedom of association and refusing to cooperate with United Nations human rights bodies.
The filing also accused the government of maintaining a monopoly on cotton purchasing and sales, noting that it does not disclose any information on cotton income or its use.
“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,” Ruslan Myatiev, director at ATN, said in a statement. “We are shocked to learn that Ikea and other companies are using it in their products.”
The complaint pointed out that Turkmenistan does not import cotton and that slavery exists in the supply chain of all ready-made goods sourced from there that contain the fiber.
Now, the ILRF and ATN are calling on U.S. Customs to classify cotton goods from Turkmenistan as illicit, to issue detention orders on all imports of them, and to instruct port managers to block their entry into the country.
“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,” Eric Gottwald, legal and policy director at ILRF, stated. “We expect U.S. Customs will conduct a thorough investigation and effectively ban imports of cotton goods from Turkmenistan.”