By Beaven Dhliwayo.
Harare, Zimbabwe. (News of The South) – Children and adults who work on Zimbabwe’s tobacco farms are facing serious risks to their health as well as labour abuses, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released on Thursday.
The 105-page report, “A Bitter Harvest: Child Labour and Human Rights Abuses on Tobacco Farms in Zimbabwe,” documents how children work in hazardous conditions, performing tasks that threaten their health and safety or interfere with their education.
According to the report, child workers are exposed to nicotine and toxic pesticides, and many suffer symptoms consistent with nicotine poisoning from handling tobacco leaves.
Also the report notes that adults working on tobacco farms in Zimbabwe also face serious health risks and labour abuses.
Addressing members of the media in the capital, child’s rights researcher at HRW, Margaret Wurth said Zimbabwe’s government needs to take urgent steps to protect tobacco workers.
She said companies sourcing tobacco from Zimbabwe should ensure that they are not buying a crop produced by child workers sacrificing their health and education.
Wurth said HRW conducted the research in the four provinces responsible for nearly all Zimbabwe’s tobacco production.
“The report is based on interviews with 125 small scale farmers and hired workers, including children or former child workers, in late 2016 and early 2017.
“HRW also analysed laws and policies and reviewed other sources, including public health studies and government reports.
“HRW found that government and companies have generally not provided workers with enough information, training and equipment to protect themselves from nicotine poisoning and pesticide exposure,” she said.
In other governments, strong laws were enacted against child labour and information is provided extensively about hazards and how to provide protection, such as in Brazil, there has been some progress in keeping children out of the fields and protecting other workers.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced Robert Mugabe last year after a military intervention, stated his administration’s economic policy would be based on agriculture.
Zimbabwe is the world sixth-largest tobacco producer and is the country’s most valuable export commodity, generating $933 million in 2016.
Some of the world’s largest multinational companies that purchase tobacco grown in Zimbabwe, either directly or at auction, include British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco Group and Imperial Group.
Under human rights norms, companies buying tobacco from Zimbabwe have a responsibility to ensure that their business operations do not contribute to child labour.
The report by HRW revealed that 86 percent of Zimbabwean tobacco was bought by multinational companies who have policies prohibiting their suppliers from using child labour and engaging in other human rights abuses, but the findings by HRW suggests serious gaps in carrying out and monitoring these policies in Zimbabwe.
One of the most serious health risks in tobacco farming is acute nicotine poisoning, or green tobacco sickness caused by absorbing nicotine through the skin from tobacco plants.
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