Commentary

How to end child labor in state’s tobacco fields

As has been reported on this site on multiple occasions (and as amazing and discouraging as the truth is), the scandal of child labor in one of the country’s most dangerous professions remains a reality in modern America. Children as young as seven are still trooping into America’s (and North Carolina’s) tobacco fields to harvest the poisonous crop on a regular basis.

Today, Baldemar Velazquez, the President of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) will offer a solution to this absurd situation in a presentation outside of the Global Tobacco Networking Forum — an industry confab at the swanky Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. Click here to read his statement. This is from the announcement from FLOC:

FLOC PRESIDENT VELASQUEZ TRIES TO OFFER PLAN FOR ELIMINATING CHILD LABOR IN US TOBACCO FIELDS AT WEST VIRGINIA MEETING OF TOBACCO EXECUTIVES

FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez brought his plan to eliminate child labor in US tobacco fields to the Global Tobacco Networking Forum at The Greenbrier, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

FLOC represents and advocates for tobacco farm workers in North Carolina and the South, and has a collective agreement with the North Carolina Growers Association which covers the H2A workers who come from Mexico to the work in the tobacco fields.

The Global Tobacco Networking Forum describes itself as the “Davos” of the tobacco industry, met in Cape Town, South Africa in 2013, and is organized by industry publication, Tobacco Reporter.
Over 200 tobacco company executives from around the world have come to The Greenbrier to discuss and network about the issues that challenge the tobacco industry, and one of these issues is the elimination of child labor in the tobacco fields globally.

A recent Human Rights Watch Report showed the prevalence of child labor in the tobacco fields of North Carolina.

President Velasquez had hoped to present his plan to eliminate child labor in the US tobacco fields to the GTNF session on Child Labor but could not obtain entrance to the session. So instead, President Velasquez will hold a separate briefing at the Greenbrier on How to Eliminate Child Labor in US Tobacco Fields, Friday, October 3 at 6:10pm in the Filmore Room. President Velasquez has invited GTNF participants to attend and hear FLOC’s plan.
FLOC ended child labor in the tomato and cucumber fields of Ohio, and President Velasquez said: “if we could do it in Ohio, than we can do it in North Carolina and anywhere else in the US where tobacco is grown.”

Child labor advocates call for more government regulation but President Velasquez said that “the tobacco companies and leaf merchants have a responsibility to put into practice the human rights protocols they espouse including the elimination of child labor and freedom of association and not waiting for government action.”

President Velasquez maintains that child labor is a symptom of the inequities in the supply chain at the point of tobacco production; and ending child labor isn’t just about pulling children out of the fields but also dealing with the economic inequities which forces children into the fields so that their families can survive.

“There is no reason, in this day and age, in the wealthiest economy in the world,” said President Velasquez, “that children are working in the tobacco fields of North Carolina or anywhere else in the US where tobacco is grown.”

FLOC has begun signing up non-H2A tobacco farm workers in North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee. FLOC is asking that the tobacco companies protect their right to freedom of association without retaliation on contract farms. There are no laws which protect the right of a tobacco farm worker to form a union or bargain collectively.

“The fact is,” President Velasquez said,” that there is no tobacco farm in the US where workers have freedom of association without retaliation where child labor exists. The workers would not allow it.”

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