Letter follows the release of a national report showing children experience sudden, serious health ailments while working in tobacco fields, curing barns
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Seventeen U.S. Senators led by Ben Cardin (MD) Tom Harkin (D-IA) today sent a letter to the ten largest tobacco companies urging them to prohibit child labor in their supply chain. The letter comes on the heels of a new report by Human Rights Watch. The report found that nearly three-quarters of the child tobacco workers in the four largest tobacco-producing states had experienced the sudden onset of serious symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, headaches, dizziness, difficulty breathing, skin rashes, and irritation to their eyes and mouths; while working on tobacco fields and in curing barns. Many of these symptoms are consistent with acute nicotine poisoning.
In the letter, the lawmakers urged the companies to develop company policies and industry-wide standards that would include the following:
- A prohibition on child labor anywhere in the tobacco supply chain, including any work in which children under age 18 come in direct contact with tobacco plants or dried tobacco leaves, including in countries where national laws provide lesser protections;
- Provisions in all contracts with growers and suppliers that child labor is prohibited, including work by children under age 18 that brings them in direct contact with tobacco;
- Provisions stipulating qualified third-party monitors to conduct regular inspections of suppliers during peak season when children are most likely to work, and ensure that their reports are made public.”
- Support for programs to prevent child labor in tobacco, including programs to support educational, recreational, and alternative skills building and vocational opportunities.
Noting that other major tobacco-producing countries, including India and Brazil, prohibit children under age 18 from working in tobacco, the Senators wrote, “We urge you, as the world’s leading tobacco companies and tobacco leaf merchants, to take the steps outlined above to ensure that all children are protected from nicotine poisoning and other health hazards in tobacco production.”
The letter was signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). It was sent to executives at Altria Group, Inc., British American Tobacco PLC, China National Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco Group PLC, Japan Tobacco Inc., Lorillard, Inc., Philip Morris International Inc., Reynolds American Inc., Alliance One International, Inc., and Universal Corporation.
A signed copy of the letter can be found here.