How is PMI delivering on its targets for farmworkers’ accommodation and access to PPE?

19 Apr 2021 · 5 min read
We reached important milestones with our ALP program in 2020, despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic.
A tobacco farmworker spraying crops.

Respecting both human and labor rights is a part of PMI’s corporate culture. Our Agricultural Labor Practices (ALP) program helps us provide fair and safe working and living conditions on the farms from which we source tobacco. 

In 2020, the overall implementation of our ALP program was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, we achieved two ALP targets, thanks to the persistence and resourcefulness of the teams on the ground. We provided safe and decent accommodation for all tobacco workers, and ensured the full availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the application of crop protection agents (CPA) and the prevention of green tobacco sickness (GTS). 

PMI’s ALP program was established in 2011 to improve the socio-economic well-being of tobacco-farming communities. It consists of six key components:

  1. The ALP Code
  2. Training
  3. Monitoring
  4. Assessments
  5. Collaboration
  6. Transparency

Through these components, PMI, together with its third-party suppliers, helps contracted farmers earn a decent livelihood, aims to eliminate child labor, and achieve safe and fair working conditions. In 2018, we strengthened our ALP program and introduced the “Step Change” strategy, with an in-depth analysis of the data emerging from our monitoring system and external assessments.

A “safe working environment” is one of the seven principles of the ALP Code, which sets out measurable standards for workers’ accommodation and PPE availability.

Putting due diligence into practice

Our ALP program has a robust due diligence process. This allows us to identify and address potential social and environmental issues resulting from our agricultural activity. The process is repeated on a regular basis, and includes three main steps:

Before the crop season, the data from previous years is analyzed, including each farm’s profile, its performance on the ALP Code requirements, and any action plan implementations. Field technicians can then create risk profiles for each farmer to be used as a basis for re-contracting. Farmers with a good ALP record and a commitment to good agricultural practices are given priority. In the contracting phase, farmers are informed and reminded of their rights and responsibilities contained in the ALP Code. The number of PPE kits needed is based on land size and the people involved, and they are then distributed. Additionally, if the farmer hires workers in need of accommodation, the housing is assessed based on pre-defined standards. The COVID-19 pandemic also necessitated the adaptation of local protocols. In Argentina, for example, one of the local suppliers communicated to farmers via text messages to verify PPE availability.
Training and raising awareness is key to the due diligence system within our ALP program. Farmers and workers learn how the ALP Code is implemented on the ground, and how to cultivate tobacco without affecting their well-being and safety. Among other aspects, the training focuses on the hazards related to certain tobacco tasks and the appropriate PPE usage. Farmers are also trained on local legislation, and standards for decent, safe, and clean accommodation. In Italy, our external partner, iVan, had to redesign its training activities to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions, with all training conducted remotely through webinars. In Argentina, the work of field technicians was reviewed and adjusted to strict COVID-19 protocols. While field visits still took place, their time and frequency were restricted, and PPE availability and usage was prioritized. Training was conducted online or by phone, or group sizes were significantly reduced.
Farm-by-farm monitoring is a functional component of the ALP program, and is performed by field technicians. In the past three years, we have covered more than 90 percent of our contracted tobacco farms. The availability of PPE and the quality of the accommodation on farms are among the standards monitored by field technicians. Any serious ALP violation found during a visit triggers a “prompt action” to flag and address the issue. The prompt actions raised and the action plans implemented inform our global performance. We measure our achievement on PPE availability and accommodation on the number of relevant prompt actions resolved. In Malawi and South Africa, among other countries, adequate accommodation remained an issue. By the end of 2020, we had brought all accommodation provided to an adequate standard, benefitting a total of more than 3,500 workers across both countries.

Improving continuously and confirming our commitment

Our ALP program targets continuous improvement, so we work to strengthen our requirements and current methodologies, and implement stronger integrated solutions to tackle any identified issues. 

In 2021, we plan to implement global minimum accommodation standards across our tobacco sourcing markets. We aim not only to achieve better standardization, but also to further enhance the living and working conditions of workers. In addition, we will focus on improving PPE sets to increase the comfort of the users, and ultimately ensure their appropriate usage on farms. 

For further details on how PMI reached its goals during the COVID-19 pandemic, read our first ALP Progress Update of 2021.