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UNITED KINGDOM

BAT faces legal case over poverty wages in Malawi

01 Nov 2019. British American Tobacco is facing a landmark legal case brought against them by human rights lawyers on behalf of hundreds of impoverished children and their families, the Guardian reported.

Human rights lawyers from Leigh Day are acting after an exposure by the Guardian about child labour in the tobacco fields of Malawi was published last year. According to the Guardian, the lawyers are seeking compensation for over 350 children and their parents who were forced to work under brutal conditions and for negligible pay.

Leigh Day brought the case before the high court in London, accusing BAT of “unjust enrichment” with most of the claimants earning as little as GBP 100 to GBP 200 (EUR 116 to EUR 232) for 10 months of work for a family of five, the Guardian reported.

Children as young as three were forced to work during harvest with them being exposed to toxic pesticides and other dangerous substances and also missing school. BAT has distanced itself from the claims, saying it tells its farmers not to use their children as unpaid labour, however the lawyers say the families cannot afford to work their fields any other way.

BAT operate by commissioning a separate company to buy a certain amount of tobacco leaf each year. The go-between company signs contracts with the farmers in Malawi who are then responsible for recruiting labourers to work their fields. The Leigh Day lawyers argue that BAT is ultimately responsible since it decides what price it will pay for the tobacco leaf.