The government maintained negligible efforts to prevent human trafficking, and reports of state-sponsored forced labor continued. The government maintained a 2020-2022 NAP developed in conjunction with an international organization and approved in 2019; however, authorities did not allocate financial resources or provide in-kind contributions to implement the NAP. The government reported expanding cooperation with international partners on awareness raising as part of its NAP implementation efforts. In April 2021, the government adopted the National Action Plan on Human Rights for 2021-2025, which included a section on measures aimed at preventing forced labor; however, authorities did not report allocating financial resources for or activities undertaken as part of its implementation. In the absence of formal access approval for independent monitoring missions, it was difficult to ascertain the extent to which authorities took steps to eliminate state policies that perpetuated government-compelled forced labor during the cotton harvest or in public works projects. In 2021, the government adopted a Plan of Cooperation with International Organizations for 2021-2023 to provide a basis for cooperation on issues of mutual interest, which may include future monitoring of the cotton industry.
According to international media reports, quasi-state agricultural associations exploited some farmers in forced labor at local levels to meet Turkmenistan’s national cotton production quota. Some local government officials continued to mobilize students, teachers, medical professionals, soldiers of all military units, and other civil servants for compulsory labor in the cotton harvest and in public works, including community cleaning and beautification projects. The government continued to purchase and receive cotton picking and planting machinery from international industry partners as part of ongoing efforts to mechanize the harvest and reduce dependency on human labor. As handpicked cotton reportedly attracts higher prices, some cotton fields are small for tractors, and farmers prefer manual labor due to high maintenance of the tractors, pressure for handpicking could remain. Authorities reported that the mechanization process has caused the percentage of manually harvested cotton to drop from 71 percent in 2015 to 28 percent in 2020. As reported in previous years, tenant farmers often had to pay unregulated, bribe-like fees at various parts of the cultivation process to access the necessary mechanical equipment, at times compounding their financial hardships and disincentivizing its use altogether. International media and civil society groups continued to report some local government officials required public sector workers, unwilling or unable to participate in the harvest, to pay for replacement pickers, thereby establishing an informal penalty system through which corrupt officials profited from coercion. Despite the absence of formal observation by international organizations, informal observers continued to note a discernible decline in recent years of forced labor in cotton harvesting and sowing, possibly attributable to mechanization and the availability of low-wage labor, among other factors. There were reports that some teachers were required to pick cotton in addition to teaching classes and students were hired as replacement pickers.
The 2016 anti-trafficking law outlined roles and responsibilities for key stakeholder agencies and placed the cabinet of ministers in charge of planning, funding, and implementing anti-trafficking policy. It also called for the creation of an interagency anti-trafficking task force under the authority of the cabinet of ministers to coordinate, plan, monitor, and report on the government’s anti-trafficking efforts and analyze trends, improve victim protection measures, raise awareness, and monitor implementation of the NAP. The interagency anti-trafficking task force, which was formally approved in 2019, continued to meet regularly to implement the government’s anti-trafficking policies and reported conducting several trafficking prevention awareness sessions for various organizations and enterprises. The law required the Ministry of Internal Affairs to record data on trafficking crimes; however, for the sixth consecutive year, the government did not report any systematic efforts to monitor its anti-trafficking efforts and did not make publicly available any government data on trafficking crimes or relevant judicial processes. The government cooperated with NGOs and an international organization to conduct awareness campaigns online, in rural areas, and in airports targeting vulnerable populations, although fewer of these activities took place than in previous years due to pandemic-related restrictions. Authorities also noted the number of Turkmen citizens departing the country decreased following enhanced exit bans and border closures ostensibly instituted as pandemic-related public health measures; according to one international organization, these restrictions may have further incentivized migration through unregulated channels commonly associated with trafficking vulnerabilities and made Turkmen migrants abroad more vulnerable due to an inability to return. Authorities have also imposed arbitrary travel bans on groups of people, preventing their freedom of movement and making them vulnerable. As in prior years, the government charged NGOs fees to place anti-trafficking awareness material in a government-owned public space.
According to the government, 15 labor inspections were carried out in 2021 by the National Center of Trade Unions; however, authorities did not provide information on these inspections or their outcomes. The government did not report efforts to hold accountable labor recruiters or brokers involved in the fraudulent recruitment of workers. International organizations conducted trainings on labor rights for members of the work force, including farmers.
The government continued to grant citizenship to members of Turkmenistan’s stateless population; in 2021, authorities granted citizenship to 2,657 of these individuals, compared with 2,580 in 2020, 863 in 2019, and 735 in 2018. The government also granted 406 foreign citizens residence permits. The Foreign Citizens Law allowed foreign citizens the same labor rights as the citizens of Turkmenistan. State migration officials continued to prevent Turkmen nationals from departing the country via airports; authorities did not provide information on how many of these interventions were related to perceived trafficking vulnerabilities. The government claimed it restricted the international travel of some young women in particular to prevent them from being subjected to trafficking abroad. The government reported it provided some anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel and also regularly instructed diplomats to educate citizens on trafficking in persons. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.