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 (firstname.lastname@example.org), who will be happy to share it with all signers.
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
Empire State Consumer Project
Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC)
Farm Safety For Just Kids
Farmworker Association of Florida
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 Justice Center
New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty
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
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)