Will the use of forced, child labour in cotton harvest increase?

Economic crisis is deepening in Turkmenistan and farmers are warning of meagre harvests for both wheat and cotton.

We expect that the poor harvest outlook will result in increased use of forced and child labour in the 2018 cotton harvest, likely to start in August. Turkmenistan is already scored as extreme risk in our Cotton-specific indices with a score of 1.80/10.00 in our Forced Labour Index and 2.50/10.00 in our Child Labour Index.

What is the current climate?

The US has banned imports of all Turkmen cotton adding compliance risks to pre-existing reputational risks of sourcing cotton from Turkmenistan. The grain harvest has begun early this year, at the start of June – possibly with the intention of providing further flour for the domestic market amid reports of persistent food shortages. Reports suggest that farmers are collecting unripe wheat as a consequence. Farmers, moreover, complain that the state has failed to provide fertilizer and irrigation. These factors will in all probability also negatively affect the cotton harvest.

A poor harvest outlook

The poor harvest outlook will put pressure on regional authorities to deliver on state-mandated quotas increasing the use of forced and child labour. State-orchestrated child labour returned to Turkmenistan in 2017, when the harvest was also poor.

Is Ethiopia a better sourcing option?

East Africa, particularly Ethiopia, is a growing source for the apparel industry. But cotton producers face multiple social and environmental risks. The government continues to invest in the cotton sector since the country’s growing textile industry is still reliant on foreign imports. But companies looking to invest should keep an eye on the political climate.