by Mitch Ellmauer, Intern, International Labor Rights Forum
Tobacco executives aren’t known for being the most ethical businessmen. They sell millions of cancer- 114 causing products every day, they market cigarettes to children, and they lie about the tobacco’s negative health effects. Considering how bad Big Tobacco treats its customers, it should come as no surprise that tobacco companies subject their workers and farmers to extremely exploitative labor practices, including: child labor, forced labor, debt bondage, human trafficking, and wage theft.
Like it or not, tobacco is one of the most profitable industries in the world. Over 100 million workers are employed in the industry, and tobacco is a major cash crop in 100 countries. The poorest of these countries have become dependent on tobacco exports and the victims of tobacco companies’ unfair trade policies.
Malawi, one of the world’s least developed countries, depends on tobacco for 70% of its yearly export revenues. Rampant poverty, widespread unemployment, and deep inequities in land distribution have driven down wages and working conditions for the county’s tobacco farmers and farmworkers. Malawi has the highest incidence of child labor in southern Africa; 66% of working children are employed on tobacco farms.