Child Labour is Prominent in Tobacco Production Supply Chains

A farmworker rests while harvesting tobacco at Dormervale farm, east of Harare, Zimbabwe, on November 28, 2017. (Reuters / Siphiwe Sibeko)
Photo Credit: A farmworker rests while harvesting tobacco at Dormervale farm, east of Harare, Zimbabwe, on November 28, 2017. (Reuters / Siphiwe Sibeko)

Claiming to be ‘ethically sourced’, tobacco fields are one of the biggest cash crops in the developing world yet have one of the most corrupt supply chains. Tobacco farms are worked on by children labouring excessive hours for minimal or no pay, while tobacco companies reap the multi-billion dollar benefits of the industry.

Human Rights Watch conducted research in Zimbabwe in 2017, which revealed children aged 12 – 17 are employed for tobacco harvesting and processing. They reported negative health affects including nicotine poisoning, pesticide exposure, carcinogen exposure and associated immune defects, yet the workers and farmers themselves were ignorant as to the cause of their regular sickness. Despite the ongoing social consequences of child labour including exemption from education, tobacco farm labour is not regulated as ‘dangerous work for children’ in Zimbabwe.

On our analysis, this is problematic not only because of the short-term consequences on the health and social rights of the workers, but also as it fuels the longer-term demand for the toxic, pollutant and addictive recourse. This demand is rising in the vulnerable areas of Asia, Africa while decreasing in the West due to education, taxation and policy restrictions. Abolition of child agricultural labour is a high policy agenda for the new Zimbabwean government, and a fundamental step in promotion of a stable democracy throughout other developing states that are also the production sources of tobacco.

For the full report on A Bitter Harvest: Child Labor and Human Rights Abuses on Tobacco Farms in Zimbabwe, read here.