IKEA’s Alleged Use of Forced Labor Reported to US Authorities
The Swedish retail giant IKEA has been reported to the US Customs Department for importing duvet covers made in Turkmenistan.
The products are allegedly the result of forced labor, which is a crime in the US, IKEA’s biggest market alongside Germany.
In February, OCCRP’s Swedish partner TT revealed that IKEA buys cotton products from Turkmenistan. The news prompted The Cotton Campaign to accuse IKEA of exploiting forced labor.
The Cotton Campaign is an international umbrella organization, with members such as Human Rights Watch, which works to stop forced labor in the cotton industries of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The Cotton Campaign argues that all cotton in Turkmenistan is harvested with forced labor, noting that no cotton is imported to the Central Asian country.
Two of the campaign’s member organizations, Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN) and the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), have filed a complaint with the US Customs Department. “Under the recently amended Tariff Act of 1930, US Customs is required to deny entry to goods that arrive at US ports that contain materials made with forced labor,” it reads.
“We are shocked to learn that IKEA and other companies are using it in their products,” said Ruslan Myatiev, director at ATN, according to a news release.
The complaint calls on US Customs to classify cotton goods from Turkmenistan as illicit, issue a detention order on all such imports, and direct port managers to block their release into the US.
Specifically, the complaint concerns the Nyponros and Malou duvet covers and pillow shams, products that are sold around the globe by IKEA, the world’s biggest furniture retailer.
Matthew Fischer-Daly, coordinator of The Cotton Campaign, told TT that it is remarkable that IKEA has a subcontractor in Turkmenistan, considering both Turkmen civil society and the International Labor Organization (ILO) have reported on forced labor throughout the country’s cotton industry. He said he hopes IKEA will “use its significant leverage to ensure its products do not contain cotton made with forced labor.”
Fischer-Daly also said the Justice Department could investigate IKEA under the criminal code section 1589, which prohibits contributing to and benefiting from forced labor, with penalties ranging from a fine to 20 years in prison.
In a written statement to TT, IKEA claims to “conduct a process of change in Turkmenistan.” The company said it is aware of "the challenges that exist in the cotton industry in Turkmenistan when it comes to forced labor, and therefore we have carried out further checks and third-party testing in the cotton fields and in production."
IKEA would not identify its subcontractors.
By Ola Westerberg, TT News Agency, Sweden