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Members of British parliament tour an NC tobacco field

How bad is the situation for farmworkers in North Carolina these days? This ridiculously bad: A member of the British parliament gave a speech yesterday in the House of Commons in which he spoke about his fact-finding mission here and likened what he found to “modern slavery.”

It’s hard to know what’s worse: that we’re rightfully being treated as some kind of third world country or that it takes someone from Great Britain to do the job being ignored by our own leaders.

This is from the good people at the Farm Labor Organizing Committee:

MP POINTS TO ABUSES IN NORTH CAROLINA TOBACCO FIELDS DURING HOUSE OF COMMONS DEBATE AS A MODERN SLAVERY RISK

December 16, 2014 – In an Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons this morning on human rights abuses in UK company supply chains, Ian Lavery, MP from Wansbeck, spoke to the conditions he found on a fact finding visit to the tobacco fields of North Carolina in July of this year as a “modern slavery risk.” The debate was in support of the Modern Slavery Bill, which would investigate and monitor modern slavery risks in UK company supply chains, is presently going through Parliament.

British American Tobacco, based in London, is a major customer and largest owner of Reynolds American Inc., which contracts with North Carolina tobacco growers.

Lavery said “the working conditions that we saw were absolutely atrocious, with unbelievably long hours of manual labour in unbearable heat; squalid living conditions, which mean workers have a lower quality of life than inmates in UK prisons; and employers showing a total disregard for basic health and safety regulations … which meant that many of them develop green tobacco sickness, an affliction with symptoms including nausea, intense headaches, vomiting and insomnia.” Read More

News

UnknownAt a meeting held yesterday, two members of the British Parliament, Ian Lavery and James Sheridan, released their fact-finding report about the conditions of farmworkers working in North Carolina tobacco fields.

The report, A Smokescreen for Slavery: Human Rights Abuses in UK Supply Chain, exposes a horrific list of human rights violations including child labor by children as young as seven, substandard housing with no ventilation and bug infested mattresses, and exploitation of workers by having them work inhumane hours for very little pay. Other areas of concern identified by the report include a lack of access to clean drinking water for workers and a lack of protective clothing to prevent infection from pesticides and even from the tobacco plant itself. The report also explains that some of the inhumane living and working conditions are permitted by lax labor standards. For example, under North Carolina law, it is legal for thirty men to share two toilets with no dividers. Read More

Commentary

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.” Read More

Commentary

Farmworkers 2If you missed it this morning, be sure to take a few minutes to read this morning’s lead story over on the main Policy Watch site: “Twenty-first Century children, Nineteenth Century laws.” The article features a powerful interview with a young woman who describes the pain and hardship she endured for years as a child laborer in 21st Century America — something that, as remarkable as it may seem, remains perfectly legal more than a century after our country supposedly addressed it. Here is an excerpt:

Q. When and why did you start working? Was it your choice?

A. At the age of 8 years old I started working in cotton fields in Arkansas. When I was12-years old I started working in blueberry fields in Michigan, as well as working in the processing plant and various nurseries. I come from a family of migrant farmworkers; we were all expected to work at some point. I am not entirely sure why I started at a much younger age. But growing up I learned that we worked to help pay for bills, school clothes and supplies and also to learn a lesson. Both my parents met in the fields, they both knew how hard the life of a migrant farmworker was and didn’t want for that life to be their children’s. They made us work to show us exactly what was out there without a proper education and to motivate us to stay in school.

Q. What was your typical job and what would be a typical workday? Read More

Uncategorized

Tobacco fieldInstead of thinking up new and creative ways to downsize and privatize government, shred the social safety net and just generally make life harder for the 99%, here’s the kind of issue that North Carolina lawmakers ought to be addressing forcefully during the 2014 legislative session:

A new report is out that once again highlights the dangerous working conditions for children in the North Carolina tobacco industry.

As WRAL reports here, the good people at Human Rights Watch released a report today documenting the hazards. The authors of “Tobacco’s Hidden Children: Hazardous Child Labor in United States Tobacco Farming” interviewed child tobacco workers in North Carolina Read More