Norway partners ILO to improve working conditions in Malawi’s tobacco industry 

The Government of Norway and the International Labour Organization (ILO) on Tuesday signed a partnership agreement for a new development cooperation project to improve working conditions and access to rights in Malawi’s tobacco sector.

A mother carrying her baby on her back while working in tobacco fields in Kasungu.—Picture by ILO
Okutho, ILO’ Country Office Director for Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique

A statement from the Norwegian Embassy in Lilongwe and the ILO says the overall objective of the new project is to support the Government of Malawi and employers’ and workers’ organizations in the country to effectively address decent work deficits in the tobacco sector.

This to to ensure access to fundamental principles and rights at work as a means to improve livelihoods, incomes and food security.

The new project, entitled ‘Addressing decent work deficits and improving access to rights in Malawi’s tobacco sector’, and valued at almost US$2 million, will be implemented over four years through to 2024.

“This marks an exciting new moment in our joint efforts to promote decent work for all in Malawi,” the statement quotes George Okutho, ILO’ Country Office Director for Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique.

“The renewed cooperation that we are initiating today is built on the strong foundation established by the ILO’s global integrated strategy to address decent work deficits in the tobacco sector and is further framed by the Alliance 8.7 global multi-stakeholder action platform to eliminate modern slavery, child labour, forced labour, and human trafficking, for which Malawi is a pathfinder country.

“Implementation of this new project will benefit from synergies with the ILO’s existing portfolio of development cooperation projects in Malawi, including especially our ACCEL Africa child labour project”, Okutho is quoted as saying at the signing ceremony.

Minister Counsellor Ørnulf Strøm, deputy head of Mission and head of development cooperation of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Lilongwe said the Norwegian Government is proud to be commencing this new chapter in its longstanding partnership with the ILO.

“This new project is well aligned to the strategic priorities of development cooperation between Norway and Malawi, which include a focus on the agriculture sector and respect for human rights, as well as with Norway’s global development cooperation priorities regarding the elimination of modern slavery and child labour,” he said.

According to the statement, tobacco accounts for approximately 60% of Malawi’s exports and approximately 10% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Estimates suggest that Malawi’s tobacco sector directly employs more than 600,000 people.

The ILO, a United Nations agency that was founded more than 100 years ago in 1919, brings together governments, employers and workers of 187 countries to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes promoting decent work for all women and men.

Malawi has been a member of the ILO since 1965. The ILO is implementing a portfolio of projects in Malawi relating to child labour, social protection, skills, and HIV/AIDS in the workplace, within the framework of the country’s second Decent Work Country Programme (DWCP).

Norway’s engagement in development cooperation with Malawi dates back more than 20 years and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Lilongwe was formally opened in 1999.

Todate, Malawi is among Norway’s main development partners, in terms of programmes and their volume. Norway’s priority sectors in Malawi include agriculture, health, education and governance.

Meanwhile, 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.

This was disclosed by Fran Malila, corporate affairs manager for Alliance One International (AOI) Malawi during the virtual Global Tobacco & Nicotine Forum (GTNF) 2020 last September, saying 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.

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.

Malila said 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 their operations, including traceability and Agricultural Labor Practices (ALP) program.

She disclosed they were notified that the withhold release order was modified to exclude Alliance One International on June 3, 2020 and as of September, CBP modified the withhold release order against tobacco from Malawi to exclude two companies — Alliance One International and Universal Leaf.

Malila added that 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.

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