Developing collaborative solutions
Agricultural supply chains are particularly susceptible to human rights violations, with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), for example, reporting that 60% of global child labour occurs in agriculture1.
We have always made it clear to all our suppliers of tobacco leaf and contracted farmers that exploitative child labour and other human rights abuses will not be tolerated.
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 tobacco 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, using mechanical equipment or handling green tobacco or agro-chemicals).
Our Sustainable Tobacco Programme (STP) sets out the minimum requirements we expect of our first-tier tobacco leaf suppliers, including specific human rights criteria covering child labour prevention, fair treatment and preventing forced labour, safe working environment, freedom of association, community and traditional rights, and income, working hours and benefits for farm workers.
In addition to the formal reviews as part of STP, our expert field technicians around the world regularly visit more than 90,000 famers in our tobacco leaf supply chain. These visits give our staff the opportunity to check conditions on the ground and provide a further safeguard against human rights abuses within our supply chain.
While STP helps ensure high human rights standards on a day-to-day basis, many of the human rights issues in agriculture, such as child labour or forced labour, have more endemic root causes which one company – or even one sector – cannot tackle alone. So implementing long-term community based projects and multi-stakeholder partnerships is central to our approach.
Our Thrive sustainable agriculture and farmer livelihoods programme takes a more holistic approach focused at the farm and community-level. It helps us identify the most pressing issues and risks impacting the sustainability of farming communities and then develop effective local actions and long-term multi-stakeholder partnerships to address them. This builds upon the many examples of best practice projects from across our tobacco leaf supply chain.
For example, in Brazil we support the Tobacco Industry Interstate Union’s Growing Up Right programme, which uses farmer training to address child labour and has been recognised as an example of best practice by the ILO. Also in Brazil, our Extended School Day programme helps provide after-school activities for children in tobacco-growing regions.
In Mexico, our company has been working for over 15 years with the Government on the Blossom programme, helping to build centres that support the children of indigenous migrant farmworkers through providing education, health checks, better nutrition and somewhere to play.
In Sri Lanka, our business has worked for over 10 years on a project to tackle rural poverty, which is recognised as a root cause of child labour and forced labour. The project aims to empower poor rural families through a programme of training and support focused on food cultivation and animal husbandry to help them become more self-sufficient and economically independent.
We were founding Board members of the ECLT Foundation in 2000 and remain active members today, along with all the major tobacco companies, leaf suppliers and the International Tobacco Growers’ Association. The ILO and Save the Children Switzerland also serve as advisors to the Board.
ECLT strengthens communities, improves policies, advances research and brings together key stakeholders to develop and implement innovative projects. Since 2000, it has funded 26 long-term projects, reaching over half-a-million families.
Its independent status also means it can call upon governments to take action. For example, over the last year, the ECLT has worked with over 400 key stakeholders to renew national commitments and action plans on child labour.
In December 2014, all ECLT members signed a shared Pledge of Commitment and Minimum Requirements on combatting child labour. The Pledge is consistent with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and signing it is a pre-requisite of membership.
It provides a framework for members to align, reinforce and, where necessary, expand current policies and practices in addressing child labour in tobacco growing. The ECLT publishes results of an annual self-assessment of progress towards full implementation.
You can find out more at the Foundation’s website www.eclt.org .