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Article

3 Dec 2019

Author:
Margaret Wurth, Human Rights Watch, on Inter Press Service

Case Against Tobacco Giant Could Protect Children

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Legal action against British American Tobacco (BAT), one of the world’s largest tobacco firms, could see the company punished for profiting from child labor and force the industry to finally confront its treatment of vulnerable workers.

The case, brought by human rights lawyers on behalf of hundreds of tenant farmers and their children in Malawi, contends that the company is guilty of “unjust enrichment.”...The claimants are suing for compensation, and their lawyers believe it could force the company to pay more for the leaf it buys to ensure proper livelihoods for the workers and farmers at the bottom of its supply chain.

BAT said it takes the issue “extremely seriously” and makes clear to all its farmers and suppliers that exploitative child labor “will not be tolerated.”...

The impossibly difficult situation that tobacco farming families in Malawi face mirrors what I’ve seen in all the countries where I’ve investigated child labor in tobacco farming. Driven by poverty, children work in tobacco farming to help their families make ends meet, to raise money for school fees or books, or to help their parents increase their earnings or save money on hired labor.
 
In the United States, I spoke with children as young as 7 and their parents. One farmworker, a single mother of five children, told me, “What I earn is not sufficient for my family. My children have to work to buy school supplies, clothes, the things you have to pay for at school.”
 
Small-scale tobacco farmers in Indonesia told me they were too poor to hire laborers, so their children often helped in the fields.
 

 

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