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22 Apr 2020

Leigh Day

Malawi: Tobacco farmers take legal action against tobacco producer alleging forced and child labour

‘Malawi tobacco farmers in landmark legal fight against British American Tobacco’ 31 October 2019

The group of farmers and their family members accuse the tobacco company of unjust enrichment, namely that they made huge profits from the leaves that were picked by the farmers who were effectively forced to work for very little pay under fear, duress and false pretences and were left no option but to put their children to work on the farms too. The child farmers carry out much the same work as the adult farmers including building ridges for planting, harvesting tobacco leaves, applications of toxic pesticides and bundling tobacco leaves. This work regularly prevents them from attending school and they often work gruelling 10-12 hour days.

…The group, represented by law firm Leigh Day, have sent a pre-action letter to British American Tobacco (BAT).  If no satisfactory response is received to the letter the case will be issued in the High Court in London, as British American Tobacco is a British-headquartered company. The tenant farmers and their families live on tobacco farms ten months a year picking the leaves. The tenant farmers work on land owned by contract farmers who enter into contracts with leaf buyers for the sale of tobacco grown on their land. They then bring in the tenant farmers to fulfil those contracts on their behalf. The leaf buyers sell on the leaves to multinational cigarette manufacturers, including BAT, who effectively set the prices paid for the tobacco leaves. 

…“While British American Tobacco amasses huge profits the farmers that do the gruelling and hazardous work of picking the tobacco leaves are paid little to nothing. They are trapped into working for the season with no means of removing themselves and their families from their situation having been enticed to the farms with promises of decent wages and pleasant living conditions. This could not be further from the reality. On top of all this the famers are forced to make the heart-breaking decision to put their children to work, just to ensure they can make enough money so that they are not left in debt. It is time that multinational corporations that make money from exploited workers are held to account.”

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