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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

Commentary

When my family first started attending Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh several years ago, there was a little boy who was about the same age as our youngest daughter. His name was Max and he had a younger sister named Erin. The kids stood out a little because both Max and Erin were African-American and their two dads, Nathan and Dave, were white. I learned at the time from a close friend who knew the family well that the two kids had been adopted out of extremely rough, impoverished circumstances. The term “crack baby” was used.

By all appearances, though, the kids seemed pretty doggone normal and the parents were clearly loving and attentive. I have a vivid memory of one of the dads holding a wriggling Erin, dressed in her finest holiday dress, as Max portrayed one of the animals in the children’s Christmas play.

As the years went on and Max and his family moved away, I heard occasionally through my friend that they were doing well (Max had actually been admitted to West Point!) and took it as a remarkable testament to the power of love to overcome some of the worst things that society has to dish out — namely the grinding poverty from which the kids were rescued and the absurd and hateful discrimination that I knew the family still found itself subjected to regularly.

And then last night, my Pullen friend passed along this amazing story from writer S.L. Price of Sports Illustrated that fills in a lot of the details I had missed in recent years. Unless you are one of the shrinking number of troubled souls still clinging to a closed heart and mind on the question of LGBT equality, I promise you will be unable to read it or watch the accompanying video without feeling a lump in your throat. Indeed, it may happen even if you are — I sure hope so.

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

Gay marriage 2So, if the “religious beliefs” of a public official (like, for instance, a register of deeds) cause him or her one to oppose interracial marriage or, say, marriage between heterosexuals who are incapable of procreation, should that public official have the right to decline to issue marriage licenses to such couples?

According to the ironically-named North Carolina Values Coalition, the answer to that question is, by all appearances, “yes.” How else to explain the group’s efforts late last week to “inform” public officials throughout the state that they are free to decline to issue licenses to same-sex couples if to do so would violate “their conscience”?

Happily, the good people at Equality NC are speaking up to refute this nonsensical propaganda. This is from a release the group distributed late last Friday: Read More

Commentary

Robert PittengerThe story of Congressman Robert Pittenger’s clearly genuine but remarkably disturbing comments in favor of the right of employers to fire people because of their sexual orientation just keeps getting weirder. Now, Pittenger is a denying the substance of the comments that he once “stood by” and that were recorded in full. Think Progress has the full story:

Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) is now claiming that he did not make comments supporting anti-LGBT employment discrimination, as reported by ThinkProgress earlier this month.

At a town hall event in Ballantyne, North Carolina, ThinkProgress asked Pittenger: “Do you think businesses should be able to fire someone because they are gay or lesbian?” He replied that businesses should have the “autonomy” to fire workers for being LGBT, and asked rhetorically: “Why should government be there to impose on the freedoms we enjoy?”

The Charlotte Observer picked up the story, and reported that when they called Pittenger to confirm the quotes, the congressman “stood by his comments.” Read More