USA: Tobacco sector’s impacts on workers’ rights in North Carolina

(Photo credit: Briana Connors / FLOC)

In early 2010, Oxfam America and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) began a human rights impact assessment (HRIA) to evaluate the tobacco industry’s impact on the rights of farmworkers in the fields of North Carolina using the “Getting it Right” tool. The assessment was designed to gather information on and assess six core human rights: just and favorable work conditions; health; freedom from forced and compulsory labour; adequate housing; freedom from child labour; and freedom of association. The HRIA involved 86 face-to-face interviews with more than 100 farmworkers who work on tobacco fields across 34 labour camps. Interviews were also conducted with others in the tobacco supply chain, such as Phillip Morris USA and Philip Morris International, as well as representatives of government and nongovernment agencies.

A team of FLOC researchers conducted the assessment over the course of 18 months with support from Oxfam. The assessment revealed abuses of each of the rights examined, analysed in a final report. Summary from Oxfam America: “FLOC used the assessment process to complement ongoing campaign efforts to improve working conditions of tobacco pickers for RJ Reynolds suppliers. The process opened up additional dialogue between FLOC and the company. FLOC President Velasquez and top Reynolds executives are in dialogue to establish a landmark grievance mechanism for workers in their supply chain. FLOC continues to push for freedom of association to accompany the grievance mechanism in order for it to be effective.  Following the assessment, Phillip Morris USA began requiring all domestic growers to certify that their tobacco is produced in accordance with their “good agricultural practices” policy among other steps. Oxfam and FLOC welcome these steps but emphasise that significant shortcomings remain in the industry’s practices.”

In Nov 2014, two British members of parliament conducted a fact-finding mission to North Carolina tobacco fields and released a report on their findings.  Other information about the case: May 2014; Dec 2012.

Timeline

Mar 2010: Oxfam America partners with Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) to assess the tobacco industry’s impact on the rights of farmworkers in North Carolina.

Dec 2010: Human rights impact assessment concludes and the final report (“A State of Fear”) is published

Jan 2011-ongoing: Human rights impact assessment (HRIA) process opens up additional dialogue between FLOC and the tobacco industry to establish a grievance mechanism for workers in their supply chain.

Nov 2014:  British Members of Parliament conduct a follow-up fact-finding mission to North Carolina tobacco fields and publish a report, “A Smokescreen for Slavery: Human Rights Abuses in UK Supply Chains.”