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Humans · Economy

Child labour in Zimbabwe’s tobacco and gold industries

May 07th, 2018
in:Humans, Economy
by:Cyril Zenda
located in:Zimbabwe
tags:abuses, child labour, children's rights, Human Rights Watch, Reform, tobacco, ZANU-PF
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In early April, Human Rights Watch published a damning report on child labour and others human rights abuses that are rife in the Zimbabwean tobacco industry.

Titled A Bitter Harvest: Child Labour and Human Rights Abuses on Tobacco Farms in Zimbabwe, the report highlighted how work on tobacco farms was harming thousands of children in Zimbabwe, a country that desperately depends on tobacco exports for foreign exchange.

“This report – based on extensive field research and interviews with 64 small-scale tobacco farmers… as well as 61 hired workers on tobacco farms in the largest tobacco-growing provinces in Zimbabwe – found several serious human rights problems in the tobacco sector,” the report said in its summary

“Many children under 18 work in hazardous conditions on tobacco farms in Zimbabwe, often performing tasks that threaten their health and safety or interfere with their education. Adults involved in tobacco production – both small-scale farmers and hired workers – face serious health and safety risks, but the government and tobacco companies are failing to ensure that workers have sufficient information, training, and equipment to protect themselves.

Zimbabwe is among the top tobacco producers in the world. Tobacco production is central to the country’s economy, and tens of thousands of small-scale farmers, and thousands of hired workers on tobacco farms, rely on tobacco cultivation for their livelihoods. Yet, the government of Zimbabwe is failing to meet its international human rights obligations to protect children’s rights and is also failing to tackle other workers’ rights abuses in the tobacco sector.”

Unsurprisingly the government’s reaction was what is expected of an administration that is not always in a denial mode, but is also in denial about being in denial. Its response was simply that there were “no cases of child labour in the tobacco sector which the government is aware of.”

However, Farai Maguwu a human rights campaigner who is the director of the Centre for Natural Resource Governance says the abuses highlighted in the report were just but part of the many other abuses benefitting the Zimbabwean economy, the other main one being the gold mining sector where the bulk of the gold comes from artisanal miners, where child labour is also rife.

“The government is the chief perpetrator of human rights violations in Zimbabwe. The slavery in the tobacco sector has been exacerbated by the land reform programme, which saw ZANU PF politicians venturing into tobacco farming, sometimes in partnership with the Chinese, who also have an awful human rights record in Zimbabwe,” Maguwu said.

“Thus government can’t regulate the sector because it is now heavily politicised and militarised. This also explains why tobacco farmers are ill treated when they take their tobacco to the market, sometimes spending two weeks sleeping in the open waiting for their money. I hope this report will raise further awareness on the human rights violations in the supply chain in addition to the well-publicized health hazards associated with these fatal transactions.”

Similar abuses are also rife in the small-scale gold mining sector, which is even supported financially by the government, where child labour and environmental degradation are alarming.

Faced with a restless population – long fed on a thin diet of empty promises especially on jobs and the general state of the economy – the government wants to paint a rosy picture on unemployment while it benefits from the foreign exchange that comes from tobacco and gold exports, so it rather gives a blind eye to the despoliations caused by these activities.

“ZANU-PF (the ruing party in Zimbabwe) are habitual liars. Tobacco farming and artisanal (gold) mining cause severe deforestation, soil erosion and river siltation,” said social and political commentator, Rejoice Ngwenya.

Article written by:
Cyril Zenda
Author
Current Map: Our coverage
Embed from Getty Images
The report highlighted how work on tobacco farms was harming thousands of children in Zimbabwe, a country that desperately depends on tobacco exports for foreign exchange.
Embed from Getty Images
Many children under 18 work in hazardous conditions on tobacco farms in Zimbabwe, often performing tasks that threaten their health and safety or interfere with their education.
Embed from Getty Images
The governments response was simply that there were “no cases of child labour in the tobacco sector which the government is aware of.
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