Malawi tobacco industry on right track to eliminate child and forced labour

Malawi, which was the only country globally that was red flagged for worst form of child and forced labour, has currently made moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate this practice.

No to child labor in tobacco industry
Malawi child tobacco pickers

On November 1, 2019, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a withhold release order (WRO) on tobacco and products containing tobacco from Malawi and upon receiving the WRO, importers were supposed to engage themselves and demonstrate that no child or forced labour was used in the production of tobacco goods.

This was disclosed by Fran Malila, corporate affairs manager for Alliance One International (AOI) Malawi during the third day of the virtual Global Tobacco & Nicotine Forum (GTNF) 2020 that addressed the strides being made globally in, among other issues, phasing out cigarettes and other high-risk tobacco products and transitioning smokers to reduced-risk alternatives.

Malila reported that: “Alliance One actively engaged, both internally and externally, to respond to the withhold release order over a 7-month period providing information relative to various aspects of our operations, including traceability and our Agricultural Labor Practices (ALP) program.

“We were notified that the withhold release order was modified to exclude Alliance One International on June 3, 2020.

“As of today, CBP has modified the withhold release order against tobacco from Malawi to exclude two companies — Alliance One International and Universal Leaf).

“The withhold release order modification means that tobacco imported into the USA from Malawi by the two companies are admissible at all US ports of entry.”

Malila added that withhold release order is still valid for other importers of Malawi tobacco and that it is more important than ever that farmers strictly comply with the ALP program through a multi-stakeholder approach.

“Malawi has various pieces of legislation that prohibit the use of child labour, forced labour, forced child labour and has an enabling legislative framework to combat child labour and child forced labour and promote a decent work environment.

“The Tobacco Industry Act (2019) became effective on February 22, 2019, which has provisions to ensure child labour elimination efforts and other labour-related rights.

“Ongoing training and extension services help farmers continuously improve their crop and labour practices and as of the 2018-2019 crop year, some tobacco companies directed that no person under the age of 18 years should be involved in any tobacco-related activities.”

This, she said, affords greater protection than the Malawi Prohibition of Hazardous Work Act, which allows 16-18 year-olds to work in tobacco, provided they are trained and supervised by an adult.

She also disclosed Alliance One International’s global sustainability program is rooted in three pillars — producers, people and planet.

“As tobacco companies, we are invested in responsible crop production in order to ensure the economic viability for the grower, provide a safe working atmosphere for those involved in crop production and minimize negative environmental impact.

“Traceability is a vital part of our operations and ensures we are able to trace our products from seed to customer and vice versa.

“Systems and processes give us the ability to track and trace our product from building farmer profiles to flagging non-compliant tobacco i.e. non-compliant seed, NTRM, CPA and ALP incidences.”

Through a multi-pronged approach, Malila said tobacco companies are committed to the elimination of labour abuses and the improvement of working conditions in tobacco crop production through farmer training, farm monitoring, stakeholder engagement and sustainability programs.

Malawi tobacco industry, which is among the top 10 producers of the leaf in the world and is also a top producer of burley tobacco — alongside Brazil and the United States — employs almost 12% of the country’s population.

“Tobacco related transactions contribute 25% to Malawi’s tax revenue base and contributes 15% of Malawi’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 60% of foreign exchange earnings,” Malila said.

“Four out of five people in Malawi rely on agriculture for their income with the majority of those individuals being smallholder growers farming an average of 0.5ha of land.

“Malawi tobacco must be grown in compliance with Sustainable Tobacco Program (STP) and Agricultural Labor Practices (ALP) to must meet the requirements and regulations put forth by governments and non-governmental organizations around the world.”

She went on to say the Malawi Government approved the integrated production system (IPS) in tobacco in 2011/2012 under which the IPS buyers contract directly with growers — enabling supervision of various aspects of tobacco production including labour.

She described IPS benefits as being increased food security for contracted growers and their communities and improved profits, as evident through the higher maize yield of IPS tobacco growers.

She told the GTNF 2020 delegates that the new Malawi government leadership that was ushered into power in June 2020 is committed to improving the lives of Malawians and achieving the SDG targets are high on the agenda.

One of panelists on the topic ‘People, Planet and Progress Towards Sustainable Leaf Supply Chains’ — that was moderated by Michiel Reerink (international corporate affairs director and managing director of Alliance One International) — was Mauro Gonzalez (Phillip Morris International director of sustainable agriculture), who disclosed that PMI’s motto is caring for people they work with.

He reiterated that PMI, which is one of Malawi’s biggest buyers of tobacco, is transforming towards a sustainable smoke-free future and a strategic forward looking innovation for better products.

PMI has been ranked second in the world in the newly-introduced Tobacco Transformation Index as a company that is reducing tobacco harm, lowering health risks and mitigating the world’s smoking burden.

Tobacco Transformation Index is set to be providing comprehensive metrics and insights into how some of world’s 15 largest tobacco companies are deploying (or not deploying) their capital and other resources in pursuit of reducing tobacco harm, lowering health risks and mitigating the world’s smoking burden.

Gonzalez said PMI is set to completely eradicate child and forced labor by the year 2025 and to promote responsible marketing and sales practices, sustainable supply chain management and respect of human rights.

It also targets to promote social-economic, healthy and safety well-being of tobacco farming communities they ply in.

Other buyers of Malawi tobacco that were panelists on this topic were Vuk Pribic (JTI’s leaf supply chain due diligence director) and Lea Scott — agronomy vice-president for Universal Leaf.

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