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Child Labor in Tobacco Supply Chains

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2016-05-asia-indonesia-12

As I have said repeatedly, without holding western corporations legally responsible for what happens in their supply chains, massive global exploitation will continue. Human Rights Watch has a new report on out on child labor in Indonesian tobacco fields, noting that the profits from this labor go straight to big tobacco companies. The impact on the kids is awful:

Half the children interviewed reported nausea, vomiting, headaches, or dizziness, all symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning from absorbing nicotine through their skin. The long-term effects have not been studied, but research on smoking suggests that nicotine exposure during childhood and adolescence may affect brain development.

Thirteen-year-old “Ayu” said she vomits every year while harvesting tobacco on farms in her village near Garut, West Java: “I was throwing up when I was so tired from harvesting and carrying the [tobacco] leaf. I threw up so many times.”

Many child tobacco workers said they mixed and applied pesticides and other chemicals. Pesticide exposure has been associated with long-term and chronic health effects, including respiratory problems, cancer, depression, neurologic deficits, and reproductive health problems. “Argo,” a 15-year-old worker in Pamekasan, East Java, said he felt suddenly ill when applying a pesticide to his family’s farm: “Once I was vomiting. It was when it was planting time, and I didn’t use the mask, and the smell was so strong, I started throwing up.” Some children were also exposed to pesticides when other workers applied chemicals in the fields where they were working, or in nearby fields.

Who specifically benefits?

The largest companies operating in Indonesia include three Indonesian tobacco product manufacturers – PT Djarum, PT Gudang Garam Tbk, and PT Nojorono Tobacco International – and two companies owned by multinational tobacco companies – PT Bentoel Internasional Investama, owned by British American Tobacco, and PT Hanjaya Mandala Sampoerna Tbk, owned by Philip Morris International. Other Indonesian and multinational companies also purchase tobacco grown in Indonesia.

Obviously it’s more than just American companies, but we should have control over how American companies operate abroad and setting standards over products imported into the United States. We have more levers over these processes than we think, it’s just that policymakers choose not to use them. As the recent Obama administration act closing the slave labor loophole in the 1930 Tariff Act shows though, it is actually possible to move in the right direction. We need much more of this. Human Rights Watch has also investigated child labor in American tobacco fields, so this is something that needs to start at home. In these cases, it seems to me that Philip Morris must be held responsible for violating child labor law and prosecuted to the full extent of the law (which given regulatory capture would be a not all that severe fine most likely) for any child labor in their supply chains. If they don’t want the legal problems, they can work with their suppliers to make sure no child labor is used. It requires many more sticks than carrots, but it certainly can be done.

You can read the entire report here.

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  • MPAVictoria

    Can anyone read this post and NOT understand why some of us on the left are frustrated with the democratic party? They should be leading on this issue. It should be a priority and something that is campaigned on and mentioned in ever speech and interview. Instead because the democratic party heavily influenced by the interests of capital we get nothing.

    • Why do you think party politics is going to be the way to solve this problem? And why would you think that obscure labor policy issues is something that the party should be campaigning on?

      Yes, party politics is obviously very important and in fact critical but I think many people suffer from a failure of imagination on solving these problems. It’s not the whole solution. And it’s not like the Sanders campaign has had anything useful to say on these issues at all.

      • DocAmazing

        At least we’ve finally gotten to the point of Clinton ejecting the TPP. That’s progress.

        • Right–and that’s the point. Leadership will never come from politicians. It requires citizens acting to force politicians to move away from corporate domination.

      • MPAVictoria

        “Why do you think party politics is going to be the way to solve this problem?”

        Because policy is set by political parties in a democracy?

        “And why would you think that obscure labor policy issues is something that the party should be campaigning on?”

        Child Labour and trade policy are hardly obscure Erik. This is the kind of issue that has broad appeal if pushed.

        “Yes, party politics is obviously very important and in fact critical but I think many people suffer from a failure of imagination on solving these problems. It’s not the whole solution.”

        The only way to solve these issues is with government action. Government action is accomplished through party politics in the US and other western democracies.

        “And it’s not like the Sanders campaign has had anything useful to say on these issues at all.”

        I never mentioned Sanders.

        • Trade policy is extremely obscure to be campaigning outside of “our jobs are disappearing.” The Sanders campaign, for instance, has been pretty bad on specific policy recommendations generally, but really doesn’t seem to acknowledge these issues as important. And I only mention Sanders because of your complaint about the Democratic Party. If the most openly pro-worker insurgent in recent decades isn’t campaigning around these issues, I think it’s more a sign that the change isn’t going to come from the Democratic Party showing leadership. It’s going to come from everyday people demanding that Democratic politicians do something around these issues.

          • MPAVictoria

            “Trade policy is extremely obscure to be campaigning outside of “our jobs are disappearing.””

            I actually think that this kind of issue could get a ton of traction with the right messaging.

            “Fair Trade not Free Trade. They are beating us because they are exploiting children not because they are better workers.”

            I think the framing appeals to a lot of different segments of the populations who vote Dem. I think no one tries to do it because the Dem party is controlled by the interests of Capital.

            • cpinva

              “I think no one tries to do it because the Dem party is controlled by the interests of Capital.”

              no one tries to do it, at least in the D party, because congress (remember, the body that actually makes the laws.) has been controlled by republicans for the better part of the last decade and a half. if any party is bought and paid for by corporations (have a Koch Bros., it’s the corruption that pays!), it would be the R’s, and they aren’t going to bite the many hands that feed them.

              if you needed a reason to vote D downballot, there ya go!

              • MPAVictoria

                “no one tries to do it, at least in the D party, because congress (remember, the body that actually makes the laws.) has been controlled by republicans for the better part of the last decade and a half.”

                I don’t think this is true. They haven’t campaigned on it or talked about it.

      • Brett

        Internal party politics could be helpful on this, along with outside PR/boycott activism. The low salience of the issue to your average Democratic politician means that you can mount extra pressure on them if you get a group together to do so in the primaries, the party platform, and after elections.

    • J. Otto Pohl

      You need to found a revolutionary vanguard party that rejects elections and other trappings of the bourgeois state. ;-)

      • wjts

        Optimistically, if me and the rest of the BernieBros stamp our tiny feet and shake our tiny fists as hard as we can, we can probably get a socialist utopia by the end of the week.

        Pessimistically, it may take as long as a month and require us to hold our breath until we turn blue.

  • DrDick

    More reasons to be glad I quit 20 years ago.

    • MPAVictoria

      testify

    • cpinva

      don’t be too cocky, I feel certain there’s some other product you use, that probably has child or slave/near slave labor somewhere in the chain of raw material to finished product.

      • pseudalicious

        Yep, that would be “every single electronic device we own.” The mining of that tin and tantalum often funds horrific militias that rape women. In other words, it’s another cheery Monday morning on LGM! I’ll bring the dead horse pictures, you bring the whiskey. Brb, finding a way to secede from being part of this species. Wallabies, you looking for new members? I’m down, I’d like to have a pouch.

      • DrDick

        Oh, I know. I actually follow this stuff for one of my classes and it is really depressing how much goes on and how widespread it is.

  • aidian

    Holding companies accountable for their supply chains seems a really important step. Anyone know what we can and should be doing to help this happen? Are there laws and regulations on the books we should be pressuring agencies and officials to act on?

    I can sit around and bitch on the internet about this issue. I’m really good at that. But some more concrete steps might be nice :-)

    • DrDick

      That is really the only way to stop this. As it stands now, especially in areas like this one, most multinationals buy from wholesalers and do no ask where it came from.

  • ForkyMcSpoon

    This doesn’t appear to have been posted on the last couple posts on this:

    Samanta Bee examines child labor on tobacco farms on The Daily Show

    With a real grade-A asshole farm owner.

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