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, estimating that 70% of global child labour occurs in agriculture1.

Child labour remains a significant risk for our tobacco leaf supply chain, which we are continuing to monitor and address. BAT does not condone child labour, and we have requirements in place for all our suppliers to work to ensure their operations are free from the exploitation of child labour.

Policies and standards

Our Group human rights policies are all aligned with international standards and regulations regarding human rights and child labour, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and ILO conventions. This includes our Standards of Business Conduct (SoBC) for our own business and leaf operations; and, for our suppliers, our Supplier Code of Conduct. Overall responsibility for these policies rests at Board level.

All our various policies and standards on child labour are aligned with ILO Convention 138 on minimum age and set out the following requirements:

  • Any work that is considered hazardous or likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children should not be done by anyone under the age of 18 (or 16 under strict conditions);
  • The minimum age for work should not be below the legal age for finishing compulsory schooling and, in any case, not less than the age of 15; and
  • In cases where local law permits, children between the ages of 13 and 15 years old may do light work, provided it does not hinder their education or vocational training, or include any activity that could be harmful to their health or development (for example, handling mechanical equipment or agrochemicals).

This is supported by our operational standard on child labour prevention – developed in 2017 with contributions from the ILO and the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing (ECLT) Foundation. The standard provides detailed guidance on our requirements, such as around providing regular training, conducting farm monitoring and spot checks, and how to immediately report any incidents of child labour. It also includes steps for developing and implementing prevention and remediation actions, and to improve the situation of affected children and their communities. The standard applies to all BAT leaf operations worldwide, which must also ensure that employees and contractors understand and adhere to the standard, and that it is promoted across their supply chains.

Due diligence

All of our leaf operations and suppliers are required to participate in the industry-wide Sustainable Tobacco Programme (STP). STP’s criteria are aligned to international standards, such as those of the ILO and the UNGPs.

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 the current STP was implemented in 2016, three rounds of self-assessments have been completed, with 62 independent on-site reviews conducted, covering 100% of our total supply base.

Our own leaf operations conduct farm monitoring and announced and unannounced visits to our 90,000+ contracted farmers. Following a pilot in 2017, we strengthened our approach in 2018 with the implementation of a new, more robust digital Farmer Sustainability Monitoring (FSM) system in 10 of our leaf operations, covering over 80,000 farmers and nearly 80% of our direct tobacco leaf purchases. This enables faster, more consistent and accurate reporting, so any issues can be quickly flagged up and addressed.

Longer-term solutions

While we are confident in our policies and procedures, any approach to tackle child labour also needs to look at longer-term risks and root causes, such as rural poverty or cultural norms. Our traceability to farm level and direct contracts with farmers enable us to have a real impact.

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 and also run regular farmer training programmes focused on raising awareness of key issues, including child labour, forced labour and health and safety. They also regularly engage and consult with farmers’ associations, collectives and unions.

This work also helps to mitigate key risks. For example, to ensure debt bondage does not occur for the farmers we work with, our field technicians agree contracts with them at the beginning of each growing season – guaranteeing to buy their tobacco crop at a fair price, as well as detailing the free support and training they’ll receive from our Extension Services and options to access resources at lower costs, such as seeds, fertilisers and personal protective equipment. The contract can also be used as security for credit or loans they need from banks, enabling them to invest in their farms.

Building on our long history of working in partnerships and implementing long-term projects in farming communities, we also have 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.

Working in collaboration

Some of the wider root causes to human rights issues in agriculture cannot be tackled in isolation by one company – or even one sector. So, implementing long-term community-based projects and multi-stakeholder partnerships is central to our approach.

For example, in Brazil we support the Tobacco Industry Interstate Union’s Growing Up Right programme, which focuses on tackling child labour through farmer training and initiatives such as its Rural Professional Learning Programme. Since 2001, our company in Mexico has partnered with the government, the Rural Association of Collective Interest and local NGOs to prevent around children of migrant farm labourers from being exposed to the risk of child labour.

At a global, industry-wide level, in 2000, we became a founding board member of the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing (ECLT) Foundation and we remain an active member today, alongside other major tobacco companies, leaf suppliers and the International Tobacco Growers’ Association. The ILO acts 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. Since 2011, ECLT has helped over 650,000 children, farmers and community members through its work for the progressive elimination of all forms of child labour in tobacco-growing communities. 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