Human rights and child labour in tobacco growing

Developing collaborative solutions

We have a long and proud history of working in partnership with farmers around the world. By taking a holistic approach to enhancing their lives and tackling human rights risks, we can help secure the long-term sustainability of rural communities.

Large numbers of temporary workers, use of family labour in small-scale farming and high levels of rural poverty make agriculture a particularly vulnerable sector for human rights risks. For example, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 70% of global child labour occurs in agriculture1. That is why it is so important to take a holistic and collaborative approach focused on long-term solutions and tackling root causes, and not rely on policies and due diligence alone.

Our ambitions are for zero child labour and zero forced labour in our tobacco supply chain by 2025.

Policies and standards

Our Group human rights policy commitments are aligned with international standards, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and ILO’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. These are defined in our Standards of Business Conduct 2020 (2.3 mb) Opens in new window for our own business and leaf operations; and, for our suppliers, our Supplier Code of Conduct.

We have a number of standards and controls in place to support the effective implementation of our policy commitments, including our operational standards on child labour prevention and personal protective equipment (PPE) in tobacco farming, which provide guidance and procedures for applying our child labour policy commitments and mandatory requirements for PPE provision, training and monitoring in our tobacco supply chain.

Due diligence

All of our leaf operations and third-party tobacco suppliers are required to participate in the industry-wide Sustainable Tobacco Programme (STP). The programme includes industry-wide standards and criteria on a wide range of topics, including human rights 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.

See Sustainable Tobacco Programme for more details.

In addition, we conduct farm monitoring of our 90,000+ directly contracted farmers, and our third-party suppliers are responsible for monitoring the farmers they source from. Our field technicians visit our contracted farmers approximately once a month during the growing season, acting as a direct link between the farmers and BAT. Crucial to this is our new Farmer Sustainability Management (FSM) system – a digital platform that supports the work of our field technicians. It enables a consistent approach to farm monitoring and overall sustainability management, with faster and more accurate reporting and remediation of any issues that are identified.

Human rights impact assessments

Human rights impact assessments (HRIAs) complement STP assessments and farm monitoring. They follow a defined process for identifying, assessing and responding to actual and potential human rights impacts, including the root causes and how they manifest. Our HRIAs are aligned with the UN Guiding Principles and conducted by independent experts from human rights consultancy twentyfifty Limited  .

HRIAs are an extensive undertaking, often lasting several months and involving extensive engagement with rights-holders and other stakeholders in tobacco-growing communities. Particular care is also taken to engage the most vulnerable people, such as women, youth and the elderly. In this way, HRIAs can help to identify sensitive or hidden issues that may not always be obvious from standard due diligence or monitoring.

We conducted HRIAs in India, Indonesia and Mozambique in late 2019 to early 2020. Recognising that cross-industry action is needed to effectively address human rights issues in the tobacco supply chain, the assessments in India and Mozambique were in collaboration with the wider industry. Two additional assessments in Mexico and Zimbabwe were delayed due to COVID-19, but will be resumed as soon as it is safe to do so.

Details of the HRIA findings and actions can be found in our Human Rights Report .

Longer-term solutions

Human rights issues can be complex, and we know that the situation on the ground can be nuanced and that remediation requires cooperation and dialogue, rather than confrontation. This complexity is why our approach emphasises working with families and communities to find sustainable solutions, while respecting local context and the challenges of operating small, family-run farms.

We continuously work to improve and strengthen our approach, and to respond to changing situations. This includes strengthening the reliability of our monitoring data and examining new ways to train our field technicians to help them better identify issues and spot early warning signs. Our training and communications programmes help to raise farmers’ awareness and increase understanding of human rights, tailored to the local context. 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, labourers and local community members.

Rural poverty is also recognised as a primary root cause of human rights issues in agriculture and so enhancing farmer livelihoods is central to our tobacco supply chain strategy. In this way, if farmers have profitable farms and good incomes, they are less likely to use cheaper forms of labour (including their children) and are less vulnerable to exploitation.

See Sustainable agriculture and farmer livelihoods  for more details.

Working in collaboration

We believe that partnerships and community-based programmes are the best way to protect human rights. By bringing together all the relevant stakeholders, we can co-develop solutions to help bring about lasting change. We support a range of long-term programmes to prevent child labour and enhance livelihoods across our tobacco-growing regions – details of which can be found in our Human Rights Report and ESG Report

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 ECLT’s board.

Since 2011, ECLT has helped over 200,000 children escape child labour. But this is only part of the story. To end the vicious circle, it has also financially empowered over 95,500 families by establishing village-based saving schemes and loans, which have helped to reduce poverty, a root cause of child labour. Training and advocacy have helped to raise awareness of the issue among 658,000 people, while model farm schools, on-the-job training and apprenticeships have helped 33,600 rural young people secure work.

ECLT focuses on three key areas that are helping to bring long-lasting change in areas where tobacco is grown:

  • Firstly, there are high impact projects that tackle the root causes of child labour at the local level. This includes raising awareness in communities, increasing access to education, building farm capacity to improve livelihoods and working with other industries to make sure child workers are not displaced from tobacco growing into other forms of child labour.
  • Secondly, ECLT engages with policymakers, other agricultural sectors and organisations working on the ground. This engagement supports the implementation of strong policies that go beyond project areas and benefit all children and families.
  • Finally, there is the ECLT Pledge of Commitment, which provides a framework for members to strengthen their commitments to eradicate child labour. The Commitment also means members must submit self-assessments of their efforts, with progress published on the ECLT website .
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