Tobacco growers take stand against child labour

A recent article which appeared in the NewsDay on July 5 headlined Children suffer on tobacco farms asserted that the International Tobacco Growers’ Association (ITGA) has acknowledged that child labour is rampant in the tobacco sector.

Guest Column with Francois Van De Merwe

Two important points have to be made on the article.

First, ITGA did not say child labour is “rampant” in the tobacco sector; and second, ITGA acknowledges the existence of child labour – which is actually what was stated by myself, in my capacity as president of the association, and which was supported by other members of the tobacco sector.

The fact is that the tobacco sector is leading the way in addressing the issues of child labour, which faces almost the entire agricultural sector, particularly in the poorer regions where often whole families are involved in the cultivation and harvesting processes.

Edward Tome of the Zimbabwe National Farmers’ Union pointed out at a media conference that tobacco growers should not be bullied by mostly Western misconceptions regarding farm labour, especially in the context of family farming that prevails in most of Africa.

The participation of children in aspects of farm work is part of a generational transfer of skills and should not be lumped together with abuses that may occur, such as interfering with schooling and health issues, issues that the ITGA strongly condemns.

The International Labour Organisation makes a very clear distinction between child labour and children working “as part of the normal socialisation process . . .  under conditions that are not hazardous or damaging”.

Child labour, it has said, is that which “deprives a child of their childhood [and] is basically harmful to the growth of the child”.

ITGA is totally against any practices that would harm the development of children.

ITGA chief executive officer Antonio Abrunhosa told delegates – and the media – during the ITGA African Regional conference in Harare that: “ITGA is a supporter of the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco-growing (ECLT) Foundation, the first-ever initiative that includes employers and employees at farm-level to fight child labour in the sector.”

The ECLT Foundation is a non-profit organisation supported by the advice of the International Labour Organisation and brings together representatives of the trade unions, the tobacco growers and the corporate sector.

It has run successful projects in the Philippines and Mozambique, which it has plans to extend, and currently operates in Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Kyrgyzstan.

There is also research being conducted in Indonesia, Dominican Republic and Fiji.

The foundation uses a comprehensive and inclusive five-step approach in attempting to make a better life for children in tobacco-growing communities.

This involves withdrawing children from the labour pool, providing access to education, promoting awareness of children’s rights, strengthening communities and alleviating poverty.

The ITGA – through such initiatives as ECLT and others – takes an active part in the challenge of eliminating child labour in the tobacco-growing sector.

We want to ensure that children are granted the opportunity to succeed in all aspects of life, through schooling and a safe and healthy upbringing.

ITGA firmly believes that a supply-chain wide approach as well as engaging with government to improve the regulatory framework and define concrete actions and accountabilities is essential to progressively eliminate child labour abuse on farms.

Such efforts have already made significant contributions in other parts of Africa. Malawi’s National Action Plan on Child Labour, which was the result of a landmark National Conference on Child Labour in Agriculture led to the Government of Malawi strengthening its the Child Labour Unit under the Ministry of Labour.

The ITGA believes that such engagements should continue to pave the way for future initiatives that address child labour in the sector at a regional and global level.

Francois van der Merwe is a tobacco farmer and the President of the International Tobacco Growers’ Association.


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