Thousands of Indonesian children have been exploited in tabacco farms in dangerous conditions by companies from the United States and United Kingdom, among others, according to a report released by an international human rights organization.
The report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) detailed how Indonesian child workers, some as young as eight, are being exposed to serious health and safety risks such as nicotine poisoning from constant contact with tobacco plants and leaves as well as being exposed to toxic pesticides and chemicals.
Children were also found to use sharp tools, lift heavy loads and work in extreme temperatures and reported symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, headaches and dizziness.
Co-author of the report Margaret Wurth said that “tobacco companies are making money off the backs and the health of Indonesian child workers.”
more than 227 people were interviewed, including 132 children working on the farms and found that few of the children or indeed their parents, were adequately trained with safety measures or understood the health risks of working in tobacco farms.c
Thirteen tobacco companies were contacted about child labor and human rights but not all responded. Some released statements saying they were adhering to standards that protected children and human rights.
The HRW said that currently not enough is being done to ensure that child labor is not part of tobacco supply chains. It recommended that authorities and the tobacco industry should ban children from working in direct contact with tobacco and that companies need to improve human rights by identifying and stopping dangerous child labor.
“When tobacco companies don’t even know where the tobacco they purchase has come from, there’s no way they can ensure children haven’t put their health at risk to produce it,” Wurth said.
The report identified a number of international companies that source Indonesian tobacco: Altria Group, British American Tobacco, China National Tobacco, Imperial, Japan Tobacco, Philip Morris, Reynolds American, Alliance One and Universal Corporation.
Four Indonesian companies that use local tobacco were also identified, but the HRW said there may be more companies using Indonesian tobacco that were not mentioned in the report.