Solutions to Child Labor in Brazil and the Tobacco Industry

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BRASILIA, Brazil — Child labor is a worldwide issue and has been the highest in poorer nations. However, Brazil is setting a better example for other nations to follow. Child labor in Brazil has been rampant, so the country is creating solutions to reduce the number of children in forced labor.

“My brother, my cousins and I would help our parents pick tobacco,” said Paulo, a 12-year-old boy from Brazil to the International Labor Organization (ILO). “The hardest part of the work was the actual harvesting of tobacco. The laborers use no protective equipment and we only receive one meal a day.” Like Paulo, people recruit millions of children as young as 10 and 11 from poverty-stricken backgrounds to work in tobacco fields. Most of them work for hours on end, which affects their school and life chances.

By working 12-hour days in extreme heat, topping and harvesting tobacco plants, children can suffer from nausea, vomiting, headaches and dizziness, all of which are symptoms of acute nicotine poisoning or green tobacco sickness. The absorption of nicotine through the skin while handling tobacco causes this illness.

Child Labor in the Tobacco Industry Elsewhere

In Malawi, children of parents living in dire poverty weed tobacco fields daily in order to earn a living instead of going to school. It is not uncommon that the straw huts of families in the nation remain unpaid for 10 months until tobacco harvest.

The situation is similar in Indonesia, the fifth-largest producer of tobacco globally. With more than half a million tobacco farms, children work alongside their parents and neighbors to harvest and carry tobacco under the scorching equatorial sun. More recently, in Zimbabwe, the world’s sixth-largest tobacco producer, people found that child labor and human rights abuses were being used in tobacco farms.

To be compliant with global human rights, large multinational companies, such as British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco Group and Imperial Brands, should ensure that their business operations do not contribute to child labor and other human rights abuses when purchasing Zimbabwe’s tobacco.

Solutions in Brazil

With the lack of legal structures in place, the condition of child laborers in poorer countries will only get worse. Therefore, Brazil, the world’s second-largest producer of tobacco, has taken a positive stance. In 2008, Brazil barred all children under 18 from any work with tobacco. It also imposed penalties for farmers, factories and companies that purchase tobacco leaves from fields that employ children.

Despite Brazil’s understaffed labor ministry and lack of resources to carry out sufficient inspections, the threat of enforcement has begun to change the practices in the country. Sobradinho, the Brazilian town where Paulo lives with his family, has begun to tackle child labor in tobacco production by implementing the federal government’s Child Labour Eradication Programme (PETI). This program links cash benefits with school attendance and after-school programs. This has led to the reduction of child labor in the tobacco fields.

Brazil shows the vitality to address child labor in tobacco farms by tackling the underlying social and economic problems that exist in the nation. Banning child labor overnight is not a solution since it would only create a greater economic burden on families. It is necessary to increase transparency in the tobacco industry. Tobacco companies must be recommended to show how they identify, mitigate and address human rights risks such as child labor throughout their supply chains.

Furthermore, in order to end child labor in the tobacco industry, the need to reduce consumer demand must be addressed. Global smoking trends show a downward trajectory in tobacco demand and tobacco-related diseases.

Thankfully, child labor rates are declining significantly worldwide. Since 2015, reports from the ILO have shown that there has been a 40 percent decline in all sectors. Nevertheless, the U.N., governments and non-governmental organizations can do more across the board.

– Monique Santoso
Photo: Flickr

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