Human rights and child labour in tobacco growing

Developing collaborative solutions

Agricultural supply chains are particularly susceptible to human rights violations, with the International Labour Organization (ILO), for example, estimating that 70% of global child labour occurs in agriculture1.

Child labour remains a significant risk for our tobacco leaf supply chain, which we are continuing to monitor and address. BAT does not condone child labour, and we have requirements in place for all our suppliers to work to ensure their operations are free from the exploitation of child labour.

Policies and standards

Our Group human rights policies are all aligned with international standards and regulations regarding human rights and child labour, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and ILO conventions. This includes our Standards of Business Conduct (SoBC) for our own business and leaf operations; and, for our suppliers, our Supplier Code of Conduct. Overall responsibility for these policies rests at Board level.

All our various policies and standards on child labour are aligned with ILO Convention 138 on minimum age and set out the following requirements:

  • Any work that is considered hazardous or likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children should not be done by anyone under the age of 18 (or 16 under strict conditions);
  • The minimum age for work should not be below the legal age for finishing compulsory schooling and, in any case, not less than the age of 15; and
  • In cases where local law permits, children between the ages of 13 and 15 years old may do light work, provided it does not hinder their education or vocational training, or include any activity that could be harmful to their health or development (for example, handling mechanical equipment or agrochemicals).

This is supported by our operational standard on child labour prevention – developed in 2017 with contributions from the ILO and the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing (ECLT) Foundation. The standard provides detailed guidance on our requirements, such as around providing regular training, conducting farm monitoring and spot checks, and how to immediately report any incidents of child labour. It also includes steps for developing and implementing prevention and remediation actions, and to improve the situation of affected children and their communities. The standard applies to all BAT leaf operations worldwide, which must also ensure that employees and contractors understand and adhere to the standard, and that it is promoted across their supply chains.

Due diligence

All of our leaf operations and suppliers are required to participate in the industry-wide Sustainable Tobacco Programme (STP). STP’s criteria are aligned to international standards, such as those of the ILO and the UNGPs.

The specific human rights criteria cover prevention of child and forced labour, including prevention of bond, debt and threat, freedom to leave employment, use of financial deposits, withholding of payments, retention of identity documents and valuables, and prison and compulsory labour. Additionally, it covers safe working environment, fair treatment, freedom of association, community and traditional rights, and income, working hours and benefits for farm workers.

Since the current STP was implemented in 2016, three rounds of self-assessments have been completed, with 62 independent on-site reviews conducted, covering 100% of our total supply base.

Our own leaf operations conduct farm monitoring and announced and unannounced visits to our 90,000+ contracted farmers. Following a pilot in 2017, we strengthened our approach in 2018 with the implementation of a new, more robust digital Farmer Sustainability Monitoring (FSM) system in 10 of our leaf operations, covering over 80,000 farmers and nearly 80% of our direct tobacco leaf purchases. This enables faster, more consistent and accurate reporting, so any issues can be quickly flagged up and addressed.

Longer-term solutions

Due to its high prevalence across all agriculture, we recognise that child labour will be a reality in any agricultural supply chain. That’s why it is so important to take a holistic and collaborative approach to tackling the root causes and raising awareness, and not rely on policies and due diligence alone.

For example, our training and communications programmes help to raise farmers’ awareness and increase their understanding of issues related with child labour, helping to overcome cultural challenges and misunderstandings. In 2019, our leaf operations and third-party suppliers ran over 5,000 human rights training sessions with more than 350,000 attendances, including farmers who attend several sessions in the year.

Rural poverty is also recognised as a primary root cause for child labour, and so, enhancing farmer livelihoods is central to our strategy and the work of our Extension Services. We’re focused on helping our contracted farmers to build profitable enterprises so as to minimise cheaper forms of labour, including children, and to have good enough incomes to support their children’s education. Our global Thrive programme also focuses on identifying and addressing longer-term risks to the sustainability of farming communities, including those relating to human rights.

Working in collaboration

Some of the wider root causes to human rights issues in agriculture cannot be tackled in isolation by one company – or even one sector. So, implementing long-term community-based projects and multi-stakeholder partnerships is central to our approach.

For example, in Brazil we support the Tobacco Industry Interstate Union’s Growing Up Right programme, which focuses on tackling child labour through farmer training and initiatives such as its Rural Professional Learning Programme. Since 2001, our company in Mexico has partnered with the government, the Rural Association of Collective Interest and local NGOs to prevent around children of migrant farm labourers from being exposed to the risk of child labour.

At a global, industry-wide level, in 2000, we became a founding board member of the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing (ECLT) Foundation and we remain an active member today, alongside other major tobacco companies, leaf suppliers and the International Tobacco Growers’ Association. The ILO acts as an advisor to the board.

As a membership requirement, all member companies make a public commitment to uphold robust policies on child labour, conduct due diligence and provide for remediation consistent with the UNGPs. Known as the ECLT Pledge of Commitment, it provides a coherent framework for member businesses to confirm and strengthen commitments and actions to eradicate child labour. Member companies must submit self-assessments regarding their efforts towards pledge realisation to the ECLT, and dashboards of progress are published on the ECLT website to provide further transparency.

The ECLT Foundation has a holistic and integrated approach to addressing child labour that goes well beyond traditional approaches. As part of its mission, it promotes collective solutions by combining area-based projects with national and international advocacy. Its independent status means it can call upon governments to take action, improve policies and advance research into child labour. It also carries out important work helping to strengthen communities and brings together key stakeholders to develop and implement local and national approaches to tackle child labour.

You can find out more at the Foundation’s website .