HRW says Philip Morris Tackling Kazakh Labor Abuse

U.S. tobacco company Philip Morris International has made provisional steps in ameliorating the operating conditions of manual workers on its suppliers’ farms in Kazakhstan, Human Rights Watch said on May, 12.
Charges that Philip Morris derived a profit from child exploitation and compulsory work displayed in a HRW report in 2009 brought criticism from rights groups and U.S. politicians, urging the company to revise its policies.

tobacco farm laborers

tobacco farm laborers

Philip Morris reported last week that it would work with the international non-governmental group Verite in order to meliorate labor conditions.

Philip Morris International‘s commitments to guarantee workers’ protection, including migrant workers, in Kazakhstan and in more than 30 other countries, is extremely important,” said Jane Buchanan, Human Rights Watch researcher.

Philip Morris purchases nearly 600,000 tons of tobacco leaf from suppliers and farmers in more than 30 countries each year, including from 294 farmers in Kazakhstan last year.

Kazakhstan available working places attract poor and unemployed citizens of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. A deficit of domestic farm laborers and a lack of government support for cultivating tobacco have also made farmers to seek foreign workers.

According to the HRW’s report in 2009, migrant laborers are often inclined to abuse.

The group reported that tobacco workers said employers frequently confiscated passports, did not provide written employment contracts, did not pay regular salaries and forced laborers to work excessively long hours. The summer heat in the agricultural heartland of southern Kazakhstan makes conditions especially severe.

Workers have also been stripped of basic sanitary facilities, access to drinking water and corresponding living conditions, the report informed.

The report as well unveiled that children aged 10 years have been working on tobacco farms in violation of Kazakh legislation. It said that children have been working with their families and missed many lessons at school.

Philip Morris senior vice president of operations Martin King said that many challenges remain in addressing the problems, but that the company is committed to collaborate with governments, farmers and workers to eradicate child labor and other abuses.

Philip Morris said that a newly adopted practices code will also guarantee the averting of physical and mental punishment, safer work conditions, greater respect for collective bargaining rights and ensure workers do not work illegal hours.

Philip Morris International, with offices in New York and Lausanne, Switzerland, was spun off from Richmond, Va.-based Altria Group Inc., the seller of Marlboro and other Philip Morris brands in the U.S., in March 2008.

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