Tobacco Campaign

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Tobacco is an industry that is riddled with child labor. It is impossible to know the exact number of children working in tobacco in numerous countries around the globe. Tobacco is a major cash crop that is farmed in over 100 countries. Tobacco growing is very labor intensive and requires 33 million workers at the early stages of the processing of tobacco, and 100 million workers in all stages of the production.

In Malawi, child laborers usually work as part of a tenant family. Estate owners transport families from their home villages to work on estates. They are forced by economic necessity to work with their families in the tobacco fields, risking their health, safety, and future. They are subjected to hazardous manual labor, physical strain, dangerous environments, and long hours. The children are charged with strenuous tasks such as clearing the land, building tobacco drying sheds, weeding and plucking tobacco. Many of these tasks put them in unsafe situations. When they cut and bundle the tobacco leaves they are put at risk of absorbing pesticides and nicotine from the tobacco leaves through their skin. Some are given the task of applying pesticide chemicals with their bare hands.

The hazards of child labor in tobacco do not end with hard labor, it also affects their development. Children are sent to work on estates with their families, which means they cannot attend school. Poverty and lack of education keep children at work in tobacco. This perpetuates the cycle of poverty as the children are exploited and denied an education.

Tobacco companies with operations in Malawi are the big offenders. Malawi is very dependent on the tobacco industry from which it gets 70% of their foreign exchange earnings. Malawi has the highest incidence of child labor in southern Africa, according to the FAFO Institute for Applied Social Science. A shocking 78% of children between the ages of 10 to 14 and 55% of 7 to 9 year olds work full or part-time with their parents on tobacco farms. This violates not only international standards but also ILO convention 138 that sets a minimum working age of 18, which Malawi signed.

"It is important to show the full truth about tobacco industry to make smokers understand that the big companies are the only ones which benefit. Tobacco companies profit from slavery, child labour and deforestation in countries of the Global South." explains Laura Graen, speaker of the campaign Rauchzeichen!

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