Tue, Jun 26, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Child labor rampant in tobacco industry: report

The Guardian, KASUNGU, Malawi

In Indonesia, the Guardian visited tobacco farming communities in Lombok and talked to child workers, including a 14-year-old who told of chest health problems that her family linked to working in the fields.

The US Department of Labor lists 16 countries where children are suspected to work in tobacco. Human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch have documented child labor in tobacco fields in Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Brazil and most recently Zimbabwe.

Experts say the very low prices paid to farmers in countries such as Malawi make child labor inevitable.

British American Tobacco (BAT) and Japan Tobacco International (JTI) say that light work in the fields that does not affect health or education is acceptable for 13-to-15-year-olds.

The average income of a tenant farmer in Kasunga, one of the biggest tobacco-growing areas of Malawi, for 10 months of work was 223,710 kwacha (US$296 at the current exchange rate), according to a study last year by the Centre for Social Concern, a Malawian non-governmental organization.

Each kilogram of tobacco is estimated to provide enough for 1,200 cigarettes. Tenant farmers in Kasungu last year earned 200 kwacha per kilogram when the crop was sold.

Tenant farmers are at the bottom of the tobacco food chain. They agree to work for a year for a contract farmer who has land, which he might own or have leased. That farmer’s contract is with one of the big leaf-buying companies — Alliance One, Universal (in Malawi known as Limbe Leaf) or JTI.

The leaf-buying companies agree to purchase tobacco from their contract farmers and supply seed, fertilizer, pesticide and tools.

The leaf buyers say they tell them not to employ children.

The leaf buyers are fulfilling orders from cigarette manufacturers: BAT, Philip Morris and JTI.

The tobacco giants have their own corporate social responsibility schemes, saying that they monitor child labor and build wells or schools.

However, the welfare projects were “pushing out goodwill on behalf of tobacco companies to address some of the problems, but avoid the harder issues of leaf prices and living and earnings,” said University of Colorado in Denver anthropologist Marty Otanez, who has studied tobacco farming in Malawi for many years.

All four major companies say they are doing what they can.

Child labor was endemic to agriculture but had been decreasing in areas where it directly contracted farmers, JTI said.

“The reality is that child labor stems from a combination of social, economic and regulatory causes. At JTI, we don’t pretend to be able to solve the problem of child labor on our own, but we are doing our utmost to play our part in solving the problem, working with others,” the company said.

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