In Turkmenistan, thousands of state employees, including teachers, healthcare workers, and various civil servants, have been compelled to participate in cotton picking as the annual harvest season began in August, coinciding with scorching summer temperatures.
In the eastern Lebap Province, the government has mandated that 50 percent of the workforce from state agencies dedicate their weekdays to cotton picking, according to accounts provided by several workers to RFE/RL. Moreover, during weekends, all employees are required to labor in the cotton fields, expanding the pool of forced laborers. In some regions, local residents have reported the involvement of army soldiers in this coercive effort.
These individuals, irrespective of their professional background, are mandated to harvest between 20 to 25 kilograms of cotton daily. The intense manual labor and the grueling heat, with temperatures soaring to around 40 degrees Celsius, have made the working conditions extremely challenging, with workers expressing their grievances about the harsh conditions.
The forced labor effort has cast a wide net, including teachers, doctors, museum staff, librarians, train station employees, and even airport workers who found themselves laboring in the fields on weekends. The presence of regional government representatives in the fields, tasked with monitoring attendance, has created an atmosphere of surveillance and compulsion among the laborers.
It’s important to note that due to concerns for their security, some workers chose to remain anonymous while sharing their experiences. This coercive measure underscores the challenges and hardships faced by individuals in Turkmenistan’s state workforce during the annual cotton harvest.