CLC-NGO Sign-on Letter to Big Tobacco: 54 Groups Urge Companies to Act Now to Protect Children Who Work in US Tobacco Fields

On June 24th, 2014, the following letter was sent by the CLC on behalf of over 50 NGOs  to the CEOs of Altria Group, Inc., British American Tobacco PLC, China National Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco Group PLC, Japan Tobacco Inc., Lorillard, Inc., Philip Morris International Inc., Alliance One International, Inc., and Universal Corporation.

We write to you as organizations representing millions of Americans, including teachers, healthcare professionals, workers, farmworkers, and advocates concerned about the safety, education, and welfare of children.  We are alarmed at recent reports that children are risking acute nicotine poisoning and other health and safety hazards in US tobacco fields. We urge you to take action to ensure that your company’s products are not made with child labor, and specifically, to adopt and implement policies that prohibit children under age 18 from hazardous work in tobacco, including direct contact with tobacco.

Public health studies have shown that adult non-smoking tobacco workers have similar amounts of nicotine in their bodies as active smokers. Because their bodies and brains are still developing, children working in tobacco fields are even more vulnerable to the effects of nicotine exposure. As you know, symptoms of nicotine poisoning (also known as Green Tobacco Sickness) include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, headaches, and dizziness.

In addition to nicotine poisoning, research has found that children working in tobacco are also vulnerable to illnesses from toiling in extreme heat; cancer, neurological and reproductive health problems from pesticide exposure; injuries from working with machinery and dangerous tools, lifting heavy loads, and climbing significant heights in curing barns; and respiratory problems from breathing tobacco dust.

We support efforts among tobacco workers in North Carolina to address their poverty and poor working conditions through industry-wide negotiations, from the workers on the farms to the growers who own the farms to the tobacco companies that purchase, process and distribute the tobacco and the retailers that sell tobacco products.  The tobacco companies have the ability to improve wages and working conditions in their supply chain and they should exercise that ability, including by recognizing and respecting the workers’ freedom of association and right to organize and by negotiating in good faith to reach a fair resolution of longstanding problems.

We recognize that US law currently allows young children to work legally in agriculture, including in tobacco. We regret this is the case, and are committed to working for legislative and regulatory reform to protect all children in US agriculture from risks to their health and safety. Even when protective laws are absent, however, under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, corporations have a particular responsibility to prevent and address the risk of adverse human rights impacts linked to their business activity. We urge you to exercise this responsibility by immediately taking the following steps to end hazardous child labor in tobacco production:

1)      Adopt and implement policies to prohibit hazardous work for children under 18 on tobacco farms, including any work in which children come into contact with tobacco plants of any size and dried tobacco leaves.

2)      Include provisions in all contracts with growers and suppliers that child labor is prohibited, including work by children under age 18 that brings them into contact with tobacco;

3)      Implement both internal and external monitoring to ensure effective enforcement of these policies;

4)      Provide support to remediate child labor in tobacco, including educational, recreational, and vocational programs for children in areas where you source tobacco; and

5)      Implement and enforce policies that will ensure fair compensation for adult tobacco workers so that they receive a living wage.

We also urge you to work with other tobacco companies to develop industry-wide standards that would accomplish these objectives.

The safety of our children needs to be a priority. We look forward to action by your company to effectively end child labor in tobacco.

Any response to this letter may be directed to Reid Maki, coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition (reidm@nclnet.org), who will be happy to share it with all signers.

Sincerely yours,

AFL-CIO

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

American Federation of Teachers

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)

Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Child Labor Coalition (representing 33 groups)

Children’s Health Fund

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Refugee & Immigration Ministries

Coalition of the Silence

EarthJustice

Empire State Consumer Project

Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC)

Farm Safety For Just Kids

Farmworker Association of Florida

Farmworker Justice

First Focus

Free the Slaves

Greater Rochester Coalition for Immigration Justice

International Initiative to End Child Labor

International Labor Rights Forum

Kentucky Equal Justice Center

Los Jardines Institute (The Gardens Institute)

Lung Cancer Alliance

MAFO National Partnership of Farmworker and Rural Organizations

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Migrant Clinicians Network (MCN)

Migrant Legal Action Program

Media Voices for Children

National Center for Farmworker Health

National Consumers League

National Council for Occupational Safety & Health

National Council of La Raza (NCLR)

National Council for Latin American Advancement

National Education Association

National Farm Worker Ministry

National Guestworker Alliance

NC Field

NC Justice Center

New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty

Oxfam America

Pesticide Action Network

Physicians for Human Rights

Progressive Agriculture Foundation

Ramsay Merriam Fund

Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Student Action for Farmworkers

Telamon Corporation

Toxic Free North Carolina

US Fund for UNICEF

United Mine Workers of America

West Virginia University Injury Control Research Center

Worker Justice Center of New York

Youth and Young Adult Network of the National Farm Worker Ministry (YAYA-NFWM)

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