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August 27, 2018

End child labour and abuse in Zimbabwe

topic: Child rights
type: Education
by: Yair Oded

An extensive report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) titled “A Bitter Harvest” details the ghastly reality on Zimbabwe’s tobacco fields, where child labor and human rights abuses are rife.

According to the report, children are employed under harsh conditions in Zimbabwe’s tobacco fields, and suffer from acute nicotine poisoning and Green Tobacco Sickness, the symptoms of which include nausea, vomiting, headaches, and dizziness. HRW further mention that the long work week interferes with the kids’ education and prevents them from attending school.

It’s been reported that adults suffer from similar health risks in tobacco fields, and, like the minors, are subject to severe abuse and harsh working conditions. Some have reported working excessive hours without overtime compensation, receiving less money than was initially promised, and having their salary withheld from them for weeks or months without explanation.  

As the sixth largest exporter of tobacco in the world, Zimbabwe is eager to maintain the hefty profit being generated from the industry, which in 2016 reached nearly $1 billion, even if it means brushing off criticism regarding working conditions in the fields. The Zimbabwean government has been blamed with failing to provide proper training to workers on tobacco fields that would ensure they are familiar with their rights and know how to handle toxic pesticides. Reacting to the HRW report, the Zimbabwean government strongly denied any knowledge of child labor on tobacco fields.  

After compiling the report, HRW contacted the companies that purchased 86% of Zimbabwe’s tobacco in 2016, including British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco Group, and Imperial Brands. The majority of those companies indicated that they have strict policies prohibiting their suppliers from employing child labor and engaging in other human rights abuses. Alas, HRW’s findings demonstrate that such companies fail to abide by their own policies.

Although no substantive action has yet to take place on the international stage to tackle child labor and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe’s tobacco fields, FairPlanet pledges to keep investigating the issue and search for petitions which readers could sign in order to pressure tobacco companies to cut ties with unscrupulous suppliers (as per Human Rights Watch’s recommendation).

In the meantime, sharing news  and reports regarding the situation on social media and spreading the word will keep people informed and spark a more widespread debate on the matter.

Image: Freedom United.