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Guardian says child labour rampant

25 Jun 2018. Newspaper The Guardian said an investigation by its journalists showed child labour is increasing in the poorer countries where tobacco is grown, despite claims by multinational tobacco companies that they are fighting the trend.

The newspaper reported evidence gathered from three continents showed children aged 14 and under were being kept out of schooling in order to farm tobacco. The leaf grown in the countries visited is used to manufacture cigarettes destined for sale in markets such as the UK, the US and Europe, the feature article read.

The Guardian said its investigation found that children were working in tobacco-farming communities it visited in Malawi, Mexico, and Indonesia, with some being kept out of school to weed and harvest crops, and some reporting health problems associated with the work.

Tennant farmers, who work for contract farmers who sell their harvest to leaf merchants, are at the “bottom of the tobacco food chain” and low prices paid to farmers in countries like Malawi lead to child labour being “inevitable”, according to the report. Tenant farmers in the Kasunga area of Malawi receive an average income of MWK 223,701 (EUR 270) for 10 months of work, The Guardian said, citing a 2017 study by the Malawian NGO, the Centre for Social Concern.

Leaf merchants who supply contract farmers told the Guardian that eliminating child labour is a “top priority” that they are committed to, and that contract famers are told not to employ children.

The top four multinational cigarette manufacturers, who purchase tobacco from leaf merchants, leaf told the newspaper they are doing what they can.

A British American Tobacco spokesperson commented, “BAT takes the issue of child labour extremely seriously and agrees that children must never be exploited, exposed to danger or denied an education.” […] “We do not employ children in any of our operations worldwide and make it clear to all of our contracted farmers and suppliers that exploitative child labour will not be tolerated.” Imperial Brands commented, “Child labour is unacceptable and we make every effort to stop it happening in our supply chain.”

Philip Morris International told the Guardian that child labour is an unacceptable reality. The company’s sustainability officer, Miguel Coleta, said, “We are committed to eliminating child labour and other labour abuses wherever we source tobacco” […] “We have been working to tackle the root causes of child labour head-on and have achieved a global reduction of child labour incidents on contracted farms over time. We welcome continued systematic scrutiny of our efforts and recognise we cannot succeed alone. This requires serious and lasting efforts by all stakeholders, including government and civil society.” Japan Tobacco Inc. said, “The reality is that child labour stems from a combination of social, economic and regulatory causes. At JTI, we don’t pretend to be able to solve the problem of child labour on our own, but we are doing our utmost to play our part in solving the problem, working with others,” The Guardian reported.

The Guardian said a February 2017 report by the UN International Labour Organisation found that child labour in tobacco farming declined in Turkey, Brazil and the United States between 2000 and 2013, but had increased in countries such as Argentina, India and Zimbabwe.