Sunday, July 18, 2010

Philip Morris Using Forced Child Labor

Tobacco Farms Under Contract By Philip Morris Using Forced Child Labor

There are a million reasons not to smoke cigarettes. Today, a Human Rights Watch report offers you yet another.

The report, titled “Hellish Work: Exploitation of Migrant Tobacco Workers in Kazakhstan,” documents a series of abuses by farmers under contract with the tobacco giant Philip Morris. They include the confiscation of passports, failure to provide written contracts to workers and forced child labor.

“Many of these tobacco workers — adults and children alike — came to Kazakhstan and found themselves in virtual bondage,” Jane Buchanan, senior researcher in the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch said in a press release. “Kazakhstan’s government clearly needs to do much more to protect tobacco workers, but Philip Morris also has a key role to prevent abuses in its supply chain.”

An excerpt from the report:

Almira A. went to Malybai, Kazakhstan in 2009 to farm tobacco with her husband and 16-year-old daughter. The employer immediately confiscated the family’s passports. In addition to tobacco farming, for which they received payment only at the end of the season, the employer forced the family to perform other work, like laundry and painting his house, all without pay.

“We were like slaves to him. He treated us really badly,” Almira A. told Human Rights Watch. “Of course there was a desire to leave and throw it all away, but how? Our passports were with the landowner, and we had no money. If we left, then all of our work would be for nothing. And without money, how would we even get back home from there?”

Philip Morris is the world’s largest publicly-traded tobacco maker. In a press release issued today, the company said it is “firmly opposed to child labor and all other labor abuses.”

“No one should work in unsafe or unlawful conditions and we are committed to working to prevent child labor, forced labor and other labor abuses in the tobacco supply chain,” the release continues. “We look forward to a continued cooperation with Human Rights Watch, other NGOs, and government organizations to achieve this goal.”

Byard Duncan is a contributing writer and editor for AlterNet. His work has appeared on AlterNet, Truthout, Common Dreams and the China Daily.

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