The International Labor Organization’s (ILO) most recent estimate is that across the world 215 million children are trapped in child labor with 115 million of these involved in hazardous work.
Worldwide, 60 percent of all child laborers work in agriculture with the overwhelming majority being unpaid family workers. Poverty is the main cause of child labor in agriculture, together with limited access to quality education, inadequate agricultural technology and access to adult labor, and traditional attitudes towards children’s participation in agricultural activities, particularly in the context of family farming .
Long-term solutions addressing the systemic issues behind child labor require the concerted efforts of multiple stakeholders, in particular, governments. We work with individual stakeholders such as business groups, unions, universities, growers associations and not-for-profit organizations, to address specific needs and are committed to collaborating with all organizations and individuals to have the best impact for the long-term.
PMI is a major purchaser of tobacco, although we do not own farms and we do not grow tobacco for commercial use. The tobacco we purchase is grown mostly on small-scale family farms in more than 30 countries around the world, including countries where child labor historically has been a problem in agriculture.
PMI is firmly opposed to child labor and has developed a comprehensive Agricultural Labor Practices (ALP) program to progressively eliminate child labor and other labor abuses from our tobacco growing supply chain. At the core of our program is a Code that mandates labor standards and requirements for all farmers with whom we and our suppliers do business. This ALP Code, derived from ILO’s international labor standards, is reflected in the contracts farmers sign with PMI or with our suppliers and includes the following provisions:
- The minimum age for admission to work is 15 years, or the minimum age provided by the country’s laws, or the age for the completion of compulsory schooling, whichever affords greater protection.
- No person below 18 is involved in any type of hazardous work.
- In the case of family farms, a child may only help on their family’s farm if the work is light and the child is older than 13 or above the minimum age for light work as defined by the country’s laws, whichever affords greater protection.
Putting our standards into practice
In places where our affiliates or suppliers have a contractual relationship with the farmers, field technicians visit the farms on a regular basis to provide technical support to farmers. Field technicians receive specific training to give them the tools to communicate our expectations regarding labor practices on the farm, including our child labor standards, and to support farmers with the implementation of our Code and to monitor progress.
To date, we have trained more than 2,900 field technicians, who have subsequently reached out to more than 335,000 farmers in 28 countries to provide information about the requirements of our ALP Code.
Field technicians are supported by local PMI management or our supplier organizations and together they are finding sensible and pragmatic solutions to a wide range of issues. In cases of noncompliance, we and our suppliers are taking into account the nature and severity of the violation and, in all cases, upholding the best interests of the child. Our preferred approach is to work with farmers to achieve measurable tangible improvements over time, however, if there is no clear commitment to change, or if there is a persistent lack of action and improvement, PMI or our supplier will terminate the contract with the farmer.
Read more about our efforts here.
Support for farmers and the community
Child labor situations are often a result of complex challenges stemming from socioeconomic realities and cultural practices. Direct support of PMI or our suppliers can make a difference namely by addressing the main push factor of child labor: poverty. Our direct support is helping farmers to improve their practices for better returns and create conditions for families not having to rely on their children to help with the crop (e.g. improving yields and quality, simplifying processes and reducing labor needs, promoting access to credit for farmers to hire adult workers).
Additionally, PMI is committed to funding programs around the world to improve the working and living conditions in tobacco growing communities. Our programs range from providing farmers the basic skills to develop their business, access to clean water, and improving quality and access to education to their children. Read more about these efforts here.
PMI is also an active member of the Eliminating Child Labor in Tobacco Growing (ECLT) Foundation, a partnership of farmers, trade unions, and companies and the International Labor Organization (ILO), which serves as a crucial advisor to the board and to the work of the foundation. The ECLT Foundation is dedicated to protecting children from child labor wherever tobacco is grown by strengthening communities, improving policies, and advancing research. Click here to find out more about ECLT’s work.