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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

cigIt’s been a sobering holiday weekend for news in many respects, but here’s a happier story to start your December that provides yet another testament to the power of caring and intentional public policies designed to improve the human condition: The Winston-Salem Journal reports this morning that cigarette smoking in the United States reached a new low in 2013. This is from the story:

“Cigarette smoking among U.S. adults dropped to a new low in 2013, although just slightly below the previous rate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week.

The rate of 17.8 percent, or 42.1 million adult Americans, is viewed by anti-tobacco advocates as another year of progress even though the rate was 18.1 percent in 2012 and 20.9 percent in 2005.”

And, as anyone who’s been paying attention knows, this ongoing decline, ain’t happening because of the “genius of the market.” It’s happening because public officials initiated strong anti-smoking policies to educate citizens, curb advertising, limit places where smoking can take place and limit access to tobacco by minors.

Not surprisingly, North Carolina government still has a long way to go in this realm. Read More

Commentary

McCrory cartoonGov. Pat McCrory took a rather startling and troubling position the other day when he spoke at the behest of a tobacco lobbyist against efforts in France and Ireland to further restrict cigarette packaging to promote public health.

Apparently, kowtowing to the hometown industry is more important than protecting the lives and well-being of a bunch of anonymous furreners.

Having established the precedent, however, maybe the Guv could follow up by doing the industry’s bidding on another matter impacting the health and well-being of kids he’ll never meet — farmworker children.

As it turns out, the tobacco industry has — at least publicly — endorsed a policy change that would, once and for all, end the scandal of child labor in American tobacco fields. As Associated Press reported today:

Two years after the Obama administration backed off a rule that would have banned children from dangerous agriculture jobs, public health advocates and lawmakers are trying anew to get kids off tobacco farms.

The new efforts were jumpstarted by a Human Rights Watch report in May that said nearly three-quarters of the children interviewed by the group reported vomiting, nausea and headaches while working on tobacco farms. Those symptoms are consistent with nicotine poisoning, often called Green Tobacco Sickness, which occurs when workers absorb nicotine through their skin while handling tobacco plants.

The article goes on to say that:
Philip Morris International, which limits the type of work children can do on tobacco farms, says it would like to see stronger U.S. regulations in this area.
Whatta’ ya’ say Guv? As long as you’re gonna’ be in the pocket of big tobacco, how about staying there when it would actually support a good cause?
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

Uncategorized

A final vote is expected in the House Wednesday on a package of tax changes that would among other things place a new tax on e-cigarettes.

Bill backers say the levy  – 5 cents per milliliter of liquid – has the support of the tobacco industry. But Mecklenburg County Democrat Rep. Becky Carney urged her colleagues to pull the e-cigarette portion out of the omnibus tax bill and allow for further debate.

Carney argued that the nickel tax was well-below the 45-cent-per-pack tax on traditional cigarettes.

“If we’re going to tax something, are we doing it to our greatest advantage? Yeah, a nickel is great for the industry, of course,  that’s low. But what about those revenues in North Carolina that we potentially will lose and that we could bring in?” said Rep. Carney.

“I think we’ve kicked the tobacco industry around enough, maybe we owe them a little deference,” countered Cabarrus County Republican Rep. Larry Pittman.

Orange County Rep. Verla Insko also argued that the level of this new tax and the impact on teenage smokers warranted further discussion.

Carney’s amendment ultimately failed Tuesday, keeping the e-cigarette measure as part of the broader tax bill.

One more vote and the bill heads to the Senate. To hear a portion of Tuesday’s debate on House Bill 1050, click below. To learn more about the FDA’s take on e-cigarettes, click here.

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