Malawi: Lawyers announce lawsuit demanding British American Tobacco compensate families working under poverty wages on tobacco fields; Company comments included
In October 2019, human rights lawyers from Leigh Day announced they were preparing a lawsuit against British American Tobacco (BAT), on behalf of children and families in Malawi, working on tobacco fields supplying the company.
They are acting for nearly 2,000 claimants, arguing that the company is guilty of 'unjust enrichment'. While BAT argue they have told families not to use their children as unpaid labour, the lawyers say that families cannot afford to work in the fields without including their children, because they receive so little for their crop.
The lawyers also argue that the work these families do are forced or bonded labour, because they are misled when recruited, often promised food, accommodation and a lump sum of cash, are afraid to leave, and quickly get into debt.
Although BAT separates itself from the farmers by commissioning separate companies to buy the tobacco leaf from the farms, the lawyers state that responsibility rests with BAT, as they decide how much is paid for tobacco leaf.
Following the announcement, the US government suspended all imports of tobacco from Malawi over the child labour allegations. , A Withhold Release order was issued, meaning shipments arriving in the United States would be detained at the port of entry, and importers would have to prove the tobacco was not produced with labour prohibited under US law, to have the shipment released.
Comments from BAT can be found below.