Does the Marlboro Man Use Child Labor?

Moises Saman/Human Rights Watch

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


In case you needed one last reason to stop giving cigarette companies your hard-earned cash, The Guardian reports today that “activists found children as young as 10 picking tobacco” destined for Philip Morris cigarettes. According to NYT, children working in the remote Kazakhstan fields “developed red rashes on their stomachs and necks” while harvesting the leaves.

What, you thought Philip Morris International’s cigarette manufacturing labor practices were somehow more defensible than their global marketing techniques? This Human Rights Watch report released today should disabuse you of that notion. Some salient points:

Human Rights Watch documented 72 cases of children working in tobacco in 2009. Experts consider tobacco farming one of the worst forms of child labor, meaning children under the age of 18 should not be working in it. Children face particular risks associated with the handling of tobacco leaves and exposure to pesticides…

We found six families who were trapped in situations amounting to forced labor,” [senior researcher Jane] Buchanan said. “Employers paid them only after eight or nine months of farming tobacco, made many of them do household chores and other farming for no pay at all, and on top of everything, confiscated their passports to coerce them to stay on the job.”

In a few other cases found by Human Rights Watch, these factors resulted in debt bondage, where families worked a whole season only to find themselves in debt to the farm owner after the harvest and were required to work additional seasons to pay off the debts.

Read the rest of the report here.

[H/T FP Morning Brief and MoJo reader Rhoda Feng.]

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest