The 2020 Turkmenistan cotton harvest has recently come to an end. Turkmenistan, a Central Asian country with an extremely oppressive regime, employs forced labour on a massive scale to power their cotton industries. However, the injustices suffered by the Turkmen people very rarely get the attention they deserve.
Every year, the Turkmen government sends thousands of people into the cotton fields, including teachers, doctors and nurses, forcing them to leave their daily jobs and harvest cotton for the state. Workers are given cotton-picking quotas, under threat of punishment if they fail to pick enough. Those that fail to meet their quotas face harassment from the authorities, and risk losing their jobs. The work is strenuous and requires great physical effort; working and living conditions in the fields are appalling and cotton pickers are often exposed to serious health risks.
The pandemic in the fields
To those of you who follow the situation in Turkmenistan, this will come as no surprise: another year has passed, and we have seen no progress at all. If anything, this year the coronavirus pandemic has made things worse. Officially, there is no coronavirus in Turkmenistan. In truth, many of the workers have caught coughs, people do not wear masks and they are taken to work in overcrowded buses. The Turkmenistan cotton harvest could be a breeding ground for coronavirus and other diseases – yet it continues.
When the harvest started, there were many children in the fields. Some went cotton-picking in place of their parents, while others were hired by those who can afford to pay for a replacement.
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