Following the Lead of Uzbekistan, Brands and Investors Support a Cotton Pledge for Turkmenistan

In 2011, RSN released its first iteration of the Uzbek Cotton Pledge, asking brands to sign and commit to not sourcing cotton produced with forced child labor for the manufacturing of any of their products. Today more than 280 brands and retailers have signed the pledge.

The purpose of the pledge was multifaceted. It improved signatory brands’ reputations, aided stakeholder communication, proved management of risks, and increased transparency with consumers. And most importantly, it showed the government of Uzbekistan that its practices would not be tolerated by Western brands, closing markets to cotton lint from Uzbekistan.  

In 2012, the government of Uzbekistan adopted a policy to not mobilize children under the age of 16 to harvest cotton on a mass scale. This year it committed to not sending college students or teachers to the fields and increased the pay for cotton pickers. Although early evidence in the upcoming harvest is still showing signs of mobilized forced adult labor, the prevalence has greatly decreased since 2011.

Unfortunately, Uzbekistan is not alone. Turkmenistan’s government mobilizes tens of thousands of citizens each year to work in the cotton fields. Authorities force public sector workers, including teachers, doctors, and nurses to pick cotton, pay a bribe, or hire a replacement worker, under threat of losing their job.

This year RSN created the Turkmen Cotton Pledge with a similar commitment to the Uzbek Cotton Pledge. It provides a platform for brands’ collaboration against a common goal: eradicating forced labor from the cotton fields of Turkmenistan.

Today, we’re happy to report that 12 brands and retailers have signed the Turkmen Cotton Pledge. We welcome the commitments of: adidas; Columbia Sportswear Company; Designworks Clothing Company; Gap Inc.; H&M Group; M&S; Nike, Inc.; Rowlinson Knitwear Limited; Royal Bermuda, LLC; Sears Holdings; Varner Retail AS; and VF Corporation.

Additionally, 42 institutional investors are urging global home goods and apparel companies to take action to address their exposure to grave human rights abuses in the cotton fields of Turkmenistan.

By engaging a wide range of stakeholders, RSN believes the Turkmen Cotton Pledge will create the needed pressure to end forced labor in Turkmenistan. Hopefully, it won’t take seven years to see the commitments we are looking for.

RSN Staff