Around 1.1 billion people aged 15 and over smoke, with 80% living in LMICs (low and middle income countries). Tobacco growing and consumption have become concentrated in the developing world where the health, economic, and environmental burden is heaviest and likely to increase. July 2019.
The Farm Labor Organizing Committee is a campaigning group working to achieve better conditions for farm workers in the United States. This article was published on their website and is reproduced with permission.
British American Tobacco (BAT) is to pay US$49 billion to become the world’s biggest tobacco company, yet has no money for growers and farmworkers to correct supply chain inequities.
Leaders from the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) challenged (BAT) during their Annual General Meeting (AGM) in London about their failure to be transparent and take concrete action despite numerous reports detailing human rights abuses on BAT contract farms.
During the 2014 AGM, BAT Chairman Richard Burrows claimed that there were no labor or human rights violations in the BAT supply chain. Since then, independent research groups including SwedWatch and Human Rights Watch have published reports detailing serious human rights abuses on BAT contract farms, echoing what FLOC has been reporting for years.
In response to FLOC’s 10-year campaign demanding freedom of association and collective bargaining rights for tobacco farmworkers, BAT has responded with cosmetic approaches including corporate audits. During the AGM, FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez asked when BAT would stop relying on questionable auditing companies and move beyond what he has called, “self-serving anti-union” audits and address the real systemic issues.
While the BAT audit admitted instances of worker death by heat stroke, workers being sprayed by pesticides, and poor housing conditions, among other issues, Velasquez questioned the minimization of the severity of these tragedies as well as the validity of the auditing company and the audit’s impact on actual working conditions.
In response, BAT Chairman Richard Burrows continued to invite FLOC and other labor groups to bring forth issues. However, FLOC has brought at least a half dozen cases where serious violations have occurred to the attention of BAT, but their response has been silence, denial, or non-admission. After the AGM, Velasquez stated:
“We’re hesitant to provide additional examples when we’ve never received a response or conclusion to the current cases we’ve brought forth. We have to conclude that nothing has been done and that there’s no desire on BAT’s part to address them.”
BAT has also responded to FLOC’s campaign by promoting their participation in the Farm Labor Practices Group, a coalition of stakeholders and tobacco giants. FLOC Vice President Justin Flores stressed that despite them meeting consistently for five years, the group has produced no impact on the inequities in the production systems.
Velasquez, who has attended the AGM for the past seven years, stated: “From Indonesia to Bangladesh to North Carolina, these human rights violations will continue until BAT agrees to guarantee freedom of association and implement a practical mechanism that allows farmworkers to denounce abuses and act as their own auditors.”