The US government and tobacco companies are failing to protect teenage children from hazardous work in tobacco farming, according to the latest report on child labour by Human Rights Watch.
The 72-page report, “Teens of the Tobacco Fields: Child Labor in United States Tobacco Farming,” documents the harm caused to 16- and 17-year-olds who work long hours as hired labourers on US tobacco farms, exposed to nicotine, toxic pesticides, and extreme heat.
Nearly all of the teenagers interviewed suffered symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning – nausea, vomiting, headaches, or dizziness – while working on tobacco farms.
“Teenage children too young to legally buy a pack of cigarettes are getting exposed to nicotine while they work on US tobacco farms,” said Margaret Wurth, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “The US government and tobacco companies should protect everyone under 18 from hazardous work in tobacco farming.”
Tobacco farming in the US puts children at risk of nicotine poisoning, pesticide exposure from toxic chemicals applied to the crop, heat illness, and chronic pain and injuries from performing repetitive motions.
In the ASEAN region, the use of child labour in tobacco cultivation is rampant. A report published by SEATCA explains the problem and provides a case study from Indonesia. The tobacco industry, while acknowledges child labour is used in tobacco cultivation, however, continues to purchase and profit from these leaves.
Although the problem has been prevalent for many years, it appears nowhere near to being eliminated. The industry hides behind corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities directed at children and farming communities, but the problem remains entrenched in the industry. Unlike other industries that terminate contracts or put in place a zero tolerance for child labour, the tobacco industry has set no such polices or target date for complete eradication.
All the countries in the ASEAN have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and hence children should not be working in the tobacco farms and exposed to the hazards.
Additionally, the WHO FCTC Article 17 and 18 requires Parties find sustainable alternate crops to tobacco cultivation. In October 2014, at the sixth Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP6), areport on economically sustainable alternatives to tobacco growing was adopted which provides guidance to countries. Article 4.10 of this report address child labour specifically: “Any existing bonded labour or child labour in tobacco growing should be opposed and if possible ended.” This emphasises the need to ban CSR activities by the tobacco industry.
CSR activities conducted by the tobacco industry to tobacco growing communities should be banned. A definitive deadline should be set to completely halt child labour in tobacco farming. A dis-incentive for the tobacco industry to profit from tobacco leaves produced with child labour should beput in place, such as a bond, which can be managed by the government.
Philippines: The Mighty-PHILCOMAN Awards
For three weeks Mighty Corp was running publicity articles in the media announcing it will receive an award from the Philippine Council of Management Research Institute (PHILCOMAN) for a range of over-exaggerated and embellished claims of contributions, such adherence to nationalism, leadership and governance, and religious activities.
Tobacco companies need awards desperately, so that they can beat their drum and publicise their name. In the case of Mighty Corp, Philippines second largest tobacco company, it reminded the public again and again that it was going to receive an award.
A closer look reveals one of Mighty’s own member of the Board of Trustees, Pedrito Salvador, is also the Chair of the PHICOMAN’s 40th Congress, and awarded his own company. The mighty conflict of interest, obvious to the world, is lost on those giving and receiving the award.
It didn’t stop there. Other members of Mighty’s Board of Trustees, namely Benjamin Sy Santos andDr. Nerza Rebustes, also received awards from PHILCOMAN.
The 88,000 smoking related deaths annually in the Philippines don’t seem to matter to PHILCOMAN. It’s mighty strange for a company that sells a product that kills half its customers to be recognised for adherence to nationalism! High time tobacco industry related CSR activities are banned in the Philippines.
For information on TI denormalization, check out SEATCA’s Tobacco Industry Watch website.
Previous ASEAN Tobacco Watch updates can be found here.