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, 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.

Supplier standards

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).

In 2017, we developed a new operational standard on child labour prevention, with important contributions from the ECLT Foundation and the ILO. It is set to be rolled out across all our leaf operations in 2018 and will bring increased consistency and effectiveness to the way in which our long-standing Child Labour Policy is implemented.

For example, it provides clear guidelines and procedures for regular training and capacity building, farm monitoring and spot checks, and immediate reporting of any incidents of child labour. It also includes clearly defined steps for developing and implementing actions to prevent or remediate child labour, and to improve the situation of affected children and their communities.

Due diligence

Our Annual self-assessments and independent on-site reviews every three years are conducted on 100% of our leaf operations and suppliers, in all countries, through the industry-wide Sustainable Tobacco Programme (STP). STP’s criteria are aligned to international standards, such as those of the ILO and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. 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 STP implementation in June 2016, two rounds of self-assessment have been completed by all our leaf operations and suppliers, and a total of 26 independent on-site reviews have been conducted in 19 countries, covering 50% of our total tobacco leaf supply base. By the end of 2018, 100% of our leaf operations and suppliers will have had independent on-site reviews.

Our leaf operations also conduct farm monitoring, announced and unannounced visits of our 90,000+ contracted farmers to ensure they are meeting our standards. In the past, different methodologies have been used in different countries, so in 2017, we piloted a new, more robust digital farm monitoring system to provide greater global oversight and enable faster and more accurate reporting.

Longer-term solutions to addressing root causes

While due diligence, as part of STP, is an important part of our approach, we recognise that there are wider root causes to human rights issues in agriculture, which need a longer-term, collaborative approach to address.

Our global network of expert field technicians provides on-the-ground Extension Services support, technical assistance and capacity building for all 90,000+ farmers who supply all our leaf operations.

These field technicians play an active and important role in rural communities, acting as a direct link between the farmers and BAT. They visit the farms at every stage of the growing cycle, building trusted relationships and gaining unique insights into the challenges our farmers face, as well as wider sustainability issues affecting the local community or landscape.

These insights enable us to tailor our approach to meet real needs and circumstances on the ground. They also give our staff the opportunity to check conditions on the ground and provide a further safeguard against human rights abuses in our tobacco leaf supply chain.

Our third-party suppliers also use a similar Extension Services model to provide guidance, technical assistance and capacity building for the 260,000+ farmers they contract.

Building on our long history of working in partnerships and implementing long-term projects in farming communities, we have developed a global programme, known as Thrive. This takes a holistic and collaborative approach to identifying and addressing root causes and long-term risks, including those relating to human rights, such as rural poverty.

Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing (ECLT) Foundation

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 also serves as an advisor to the Board.

ECLT’s 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.

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 .

Sustainable Agriculture and Farmer Livelihoods Report

Sustainable Agriculture and Farmer Livelihoods Focus Report 2017
Download our Sustainable Agriculture and Farmer Livelihoods Focus Report 2017