Fusion

Philip Morris International announced it will now buy tobacco from third party tobacco companies instead of directly from growers. The decision is expected to result in a decline in the number of children working in tobacco fields across the United States.

Under the new sourcing model, third party leaf companies Alliance One International and Universal Leaf will ban children under 18 from working in tobacco fields, handling pesticides or working with sharp tools and in extreme temperatures. The policy is more stringent than the Federal law, which allows children as young as 12 to work in agriculture.

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A Fusion Investigates report published earlier this year found children as young as 8 working alongside their parents in tobacco fields in North Carolina.

“Philip Morris International’s new purchasing model means thousands of U.S. tobacco farms will now need to meet higher child labor standards that should protect children from the most dangerous work in tobacco farming,” said Margaret Wurth, a children’s right researcher at Human Rights Watch. HRW published a report in May 2014 that found children working in tobacco fields are exposed to nicotine, toxic pesticides, and extreme heat.

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Corey Henry, a spokesperson for Philip Morris International, told Fusion that the switch was mostly done for economic reasons.

“It’s really about improving the way we purchase tobacco around the world,” said Henry.

"We work very closely with Universal [Leaf] and Alliance [One International] to make sure that our fair labor practices are implemented and that no incidence of child labor does not occur where we source tobacco.”

Activists aren't entirely convinced.

“We’re concerned how well this will be enforced,” says Norma Flores from the Association for Farm Opportunities Program. “We’re hoping that this will prove to be successful and that this will encourage other tobacco companies to follow suit.

Alliance One International and Universal Leaf will include Phillip Morris International’s Agriculture Labor Practice (ALP) in their contracts with tobacco growers.  Both companies say they will have inspectors to make sure growers are compliant.

Other tobacco companies continue to buy directly from growers.  R.J. Reynolds, the second largest tobacco company in the US, has no child labor policy.

@fusion