Addressing the issue
Child labour is an important issue for any industry with an agricultural supply chain.
We’ve been at the forefront of the industry for many years in our efforts to eliminate exploitative child labour in tobacco growing. Our approach includes supplier standards and assessments, industry initiatives and community-based programmes.
Our Supplier Code of Conduct includes a specific requirement for all our suppliers to ensure their operations are free from the exploitation of child labour. Specifically, this includes not employing anyone under the age of 18 in any work that is considered hazardous, or anyone under the age of 15 (or below the legal age for finishing compulsory schooling – whichever is higher) in any capacity.
In the case of child labour in farming, the reality of rural agricultural life in many parts of the world means certain kinds of work can play a formative, cultural, social and familial role for children. Where local law permits, we consider it acceptable for children of between 13 and 15 years of age to help on their families’ farms provided it is light work, does not hinder their education or vocational training and does not involve any activity which could be harmful to their health or development (for example, handling mechanical equipment or agro-chemicals).
Our Sustainable Tobacco Programme (STP) sets out the minimum requirements we expect of our tobacco leaf suppliers, including specific criteria for addressing child labour. STP promotes best practice and provides a framework for continual improvement through annual self-assessments and on-site reviews of all our first-tier leaf suppliers.
With a supply chain the size of ours issues can sometimes occur – such as allegations regarding child labour on tobacco farms in the US1. We take such allegations very seriously and so, in 2015, we prioritised an independent on-site review of our US suppliers. No evidence of child labour was found, but some areas were identified for further improvement, particularly in relation to workers’ awareness of their rights under US law.
We are working with our US suppliers to address these issues and continue to engage with the relevant parties.
We co-founded the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing (ECLT) Foundation and remain active members, along with others in the industry, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Save the Children. ECLT focuses on research and advocacy and runs long-term community projects to address the root causes of child labour.
For example, in 2015 it engaged with stakeholders in Indonesia to understand the child labour situation and identify existing efforts, gaps and needs. The insights gained will be used to develop a new project in the region.
In Tanzania, with the support of Winrock International and in partnership with the ILO, ECLT sponsored a conference in 2015 convened by the Government. This has resulted in a national commitment and action plan to eliminate child labour in Tanzanian agriculture. You can find out more at the Foundation’s website www.eclt.org .
We also have a number of long-standing community-based programmes to address child labour in tobacco growing areas. An example is Project Blossom in Mexico, where our company works with the Mexican government to build centres that offer children support, providing education, as well as health, nutrition and recreation services.
In Brazil, our Extended School Day programme helps schools in tobacco growing regions to provide alternative after-school activities, and our company also supports the Growing Up Right programme with the Tobacco Industry Interstate Union, which provides capacity building and training for farmers on addressing child labour.