Commodity Atlas


Countries Where Cotton is Reportedly Produced with Forced Labor and/or Child Labor

Cotton Commodity Risk Map

Cotton is reportedly produced with forced labor (FL) and/or child labor (CL) in the following countries:

  • Argentina (CL)
  • Azerbaijan (CL)
  • Benin (FL, CL)
  • Brazil (CL)
  • Burkina Faso (FL, CL)
  • Cameroon (FL)
  • China (FL, CL)
  • Egypt (CL)
  • India – Cottonseed (hybrid) (FL, CL)
  • Kazakhstan (FL, CL)
  • Kyrgyz Republic (FL, CL)
  • Mali (CL)
  • Pakistan (FL)
  • Tajikistan (FL, CL)
  • Togo (FL)
  • Turkey (CL)
  • Turkmenistan (FL, CL)
  • Uzbekistan (FL, CL)
  • Zambia (CL)

Top ten countries that produce cotton (lint and seed) worldwide (FAOSTAT 2014):

Cotton lint:

  1. India
  2. China
  3. United States
  4. Pakistan
  5. Brazil
  6. Uzbekistan
  7. Australia
  8. Turkey
  9. Argentina
  10. Greece


  1. China
  2. India
  3. United States
  4. Pakistan
  5. Brazil
  6. Uzbekistan
  7. Turkey
  8. Australia
  9. Argentina
  10. Mexico

Top ten countries that export cotton worldwide (UN Comtrade 2017):[1]

  1. China
  2. United States
  3. India
  4. Pakistan
  5. Vietnam
  6. Turkey
  7. Australia
  8. Hong Kong
  9. Brazil
  10. Italy

[1] International Trade Center (ITC Calculations based on UNCOMTRADE Statistics).

Top ten countries that import cotton worldwide (UN Comtrade 2017):[2]

  1. China
  2. Bangladesh
  3. Vietnam
  4. Turkey
  5. Indonesia
  6. Hong Kong
  7. Italy
  8. Republic of Korea
  9. India
  10. Germany

[2] International Trade Center (ITC Calculations based on UNCOMTRADE Statistics).

Where is cotton reportedly produced with trafficking and/or child labor?

According to the U.S. Department of State 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report, cotton is listed as being produced with forced labor or forced child labor in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali, Tajikistan, Togo, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.[1b]

According to the U.S. Department of Labor List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor, cotton is produced with forced and child labor in Benin, Burkina Faso, China, India (cottonseed), Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Child labor is noted in Argentina, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Egypt, India, Kyrgyz Republic, Mali, Turkey, and Zambia. Forced labor is noted in Pakistan and Uzbekistan.[2b]

Argentina is listed as Tier 1 country by the U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report. Azerbaijan, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, India, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Turkey, and Zambia are listed as Tier 2 countries. Kyrgyz Republic, Mali, Tajikistan, Togo, and Uzbekistan are listed as Tier 2 Watch List countries. China and Turkmenistan are listed as Tier 3 countries.[3]

Cotton production and supply chain:

The cotton industry is one of the largest agricultural industries, employing an estimated 300 million people.[19] Cotton harvesting is labor intensive, and in much of the world, cotton is grown by small-holder farmers.

After harvesting by machine or hand, raw cotton is transported to gins where it is processed. Cotton yarn is then woven into textiles, which are made into garments and home goods. In turn, cottonseed is processed such that the meal is separated from the oil; the former is used in animal feed and the latter is used as cooking oil.

These production stages may occur across multiple countries, particularly for garments and textiles, making it difficult to determine where fibers in a given consumer item come from. For example, fibers from Egypt, Mali, and the United States may all be combined into one garment at a textile mill in Indonesia.


China and the United States are the largest exporters of cotton.[20] Both countries produce cotton products as well. China is a major importer of cotton, followed by Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Turkey.[21]

Collecting cotton

How do trafficking and/or child labor in
cotton production affect me?

Cotton produced using forced and/or child labor ends up in the clothes we wear, the textiles in our houses, and, through cottonseed oil, the food we eat.

Examples of what governments, corporations,
and others are doing:

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), a multi-stakeholder group, aims to improve environmental practices of cotton production and improve livelihoods and working conditions by developing “Better Cotton” as a “sustainable mainstream commodity.” BCI has set a goal of Better Cotton totaling 30 percent of global production by 2020. Better Cotton bales are segregated and traceable from farm to gin. Farmers in more than 20 countries produce Better Cotton that is sourced by retailers and brands including Adidas, H&M, IKEA, Levi Strauss & Co., Marks and Spencer, and Nike.[22]

The Cotton Campaign is a multi-stakeholder group that advocates for the end of trafficking in cotton production, particularly in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Among other actions, the Campaign has called on the World Bank to “suspend lending to the agriculture sector in Uzbekistan until the Uzbek government changes its policy of forced labor in the cotton industry.”[23]

Clear Cotton project, a four-year project launched on March 1, 2018, aims to eliminate child labor and forced labor in cotton and focuses on three cotton-producing countries: Burkina Faso, Mali, and Pakistan as well as raising awareness in Peru.[24] The Clear Cotton project’s main objectives include: promoting “enhanced national legislation and policies,” and addressing “the basic needs and rights” of children working in the cotton value chain as well as victims of forced labor.[25] The project is co-funded by the European Union and implemented by the ILO in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization.[26]

What do trafficking and/or child labor in
cotton production look like?

The nature of forced labor in cotton varies greatly from region to region. For example, in India hereditary debt may tie families and communities to the land they work on.[4] In China and Uzbekistan, forced labor is seasonal and may be enforced through mandatory labor requirements organized by the national or regional governments. In other cases, such as Benin, forced labor is tied to migrant workers, including migrant children.

Government-sanctioned child labor and trafficking is a somewhat unique feature of cotton production, with much of the recent attention for this issue focusing on Uzbekistan. Cotton farmers in Uzbekistan typically lease farm land from the government and must meet assigned cotton production quotas. However, the government also sets the price of cotton and maintains a monopoly on purchasing as well as sales of agricultural inputs.[5] Until recently, the Uzbek government required children to perform seasonal work harvesting cotton. Child labor in the Uzbek harvest has been banned, and the government conducted monitoring in conjunction with the ILO in the 2013, 2014, and 2017 harvests.[6] According to the U.S. Department of State, during the 2017 harvest approximately 336,000 cotton pickers out of an estimated 2.6 million workers were either forced or coerced to work.[7] Similarly, ILO noted that most recruited workers appeared to be volunteers but that some were found to have worked “as a result of persuasion, pressure or coercion.”[8] The World Bank released a statement that supported the ILO’s findings concerning the 2017 cotton harvest season, concluding that “there was no systematic recruitment of student, teachers, doctors and nurses in this year’s cotton harvest.”[9] Civil servants were reportedly under pressure from the government of Uzbekistan in 2017 to “mobilize” cotton pickers, sometimes under threat of threat of losing their employment if they did not comply.[10]

Trafficking in the cotton sector in Turkmenistan follows similar dynamics as those at play in Uzbekistan.  The government coerces farmers to produce cotton at assigned quotas, and the state owns all the land in the country, which farmers lease. Farmers are then required to sell their produced cotton to the state at artificially low prices. Public sector workers are required to harvest the cotton under threat of losing their jobs, and private sector businesses may also be required to provide labor or financial assistance to the annual harvesting effort.[11] In Tajikistan, some elementary school children work in the cotton harvest. According to a 2013 monitoring report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), much of this work is voluntary, but some may be coerced by schools.[12]

In much of the world, particularly in West Africa, cotton is grown in a small-holder context. Children often work on their family’s plot. Some children may be involved in the worst forms of child labor if they are exposed to dangerous conditions including long hours, heat, and pesticides, and forego their education due to their cotton-related work. In other cases, children perform age-appropriate light tasks and continue to participate in schooling, which does not necessarily constitute a worst form of child labor.

Child migration in West African countries, such as Burkina Faso, Mali, and Benin, is also relatively common. Boys aged ten and above migrate from their rural homes to work on farms in other regions of the country, most often traveling to cotton-producing regions to assist in the cotton harvest. In some cases, these children migrate within well-established family or community “kinship” systems. This migration is not always voluntary as some children are pushed into conditions of forced labor. Some children working for farmers may not be paid until the end of the harvest cycle, if they are paid at all.  Many times, payment is deferred even longer, and the end wages are often much less than promised.[13] Some migrant juvenile workers may be paid in goods rather than cash according to verbal agreements with the farmer. For example, a worker may request a new bicycle and clothes at the end of the harvest.[14] In other cases, migration may be under coercion or outright trafficking. In 2012, Interpol rescued over 400 child trafficking victims from Burkina Faso, some of whom were reportedly working on cotton farms.[15]

In the cottonseed industry in India, forced child labor is reportedly used in some regions for the cross-pollination of cottonseed plots. According to the India Committee of the Netherlands, tribal children from South Rajasthan and North Gujarat are trafficked to North Gujarat.[16] According to civil society organizations, children are forced to work across the cotton supply chain in India including in cotton fields, mills, factories, and home-based operations.[17]

Children can be involved in all stages of the supply chain: cultivation, harvesting, ginning, and manufacturing. In cultivation and harvesting, child laborers are forced to work long hours; exhaustion, heat stroke, and malnutrition are common. Children are also exposed to harsh chemicals as cotton uses more insecticide than any other crop, making up 16 percent of global use. Exposure to these chemicals can cause tremors, nausea, weakness, blurred vision, extreme dizziness, headaches, depression, and even paralysis or death. In ginning, children work without protective equipment, inhaling contaminated air, which leads to respiratory problems.[18]


Watch a video by the Environmental Justice Foundation.

Read a case study by the UN Global Compact on labor trafficking in cotton.

Read about the Better Cotton Initiative.


[1b] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2018.

[2b] U.S. Department of Labor. 2018 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. 2018.

[3] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2018.

[4] International Labour Organization Child Labour in Cotton. 2016.

[5] Human Rights Watch. Uzbekistan: Forced Labor Widespread in Harvest. 2013.

[6] International Labor Organization. Observation (CEACR) – adopted 2013, published 103rd ILC session (2014). 2014.

ILO. “Third-party monitoring of measures against child labor and forced labour during the 2017 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan.” 2018.—ed_norm/—ipec/documents/publication/wcms_617830.pdf

[7] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2018.

[8] ILO. “Third-party monitoring of measures against child labor and forced labour during the 2017 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan.” 2018.—ed_norm/—ipec/documents/publication/wcms_617830.pdf

[9] The World Bank. World Bank Statement on ILO Cotton Harvest Monitoring in Uzbekistan. 2018

[10] Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights. Cotton Harvest Chronicle 2018, Issue 3.

[11] Cotton Campaign. Turkmenistan. 2017 Findings of Forced Labor Monitoring during Cotton Harvesting. 2018

[12] International Organization for Migration. Children and Student Participation in Tajikistan’s Cotton Harvest Annual Assessment 2013

[13] de Lange, Albertine. “Going to Kompienga.” A Study of Child Labour Migration and Trafficking in Burkina Faso’s South-Eastern Cotton Sector. Amsterdam: International Research on Working Children (IREWOC). August 2006.

[14] de Lange, Albertine. “Going to Kompienga.” A Study of Child Labour Migration and Trafficking in Burkina Faso’s South-Eastern Cotton Sector. Amsterdam: International Research on Working Children (IREWOC). August 2006.

[15] Interpol. Nearly 400 victims of child trafficking rescued across Burkina Faso in INTERPOL-led operation. November 22, 2012.

[16] India Committee of the Netherlands. “Trafficking of children to cottonseed fields of Gujarat.” January 2015.

[17] Geeta Sekhon. “Forced Labor and Child Trafficking in India’s Garment Sector.” September 2017.

[18] World Vision. Forced and Child Labour in the Cotton Industry. March 2012.

[19] World Vision. Forced and Child Labour in the Cotton Industry. March 2012.

[20] Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, Statistics Division (FAOSTAT). FAOSTAT Database: Food and Agricultural Commodities Production /Countries by Commodity. 2012.

UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. UN Comtrade Database. 2012.

[21] International Trade Center (ITC Calculations based on UNCOMTRADE Statistics).

[22] United Nations Global Compact. Better Cotton Initiative.

[23] Cotton Campaign. Blog.

Cotton Campaign. Uzbek and global activists petition World Bank President to Suspend Payments. March 9, 2016.

[24] International Labour Organization. Eliminating child labour and forced labour in the cotton, textile and garment value chains: an integrated approach.–en/index.htm

[25] Clear Cotton. ILO.—ed_norm/—ipec/documents/publication/wcms_650172.pdf

[26] Europa. Clear Cotton project seeks halt to child labour in West Africa and Pakistan.