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July 14, 2010
Human Rights Abuses Found in Kazakhstan Suppliers of Tobacco to Philip Morris
    by Robert Kropp

A report by Human Rights Watch finds abuses of migrant workers and the frequent use of child labor in the company's supply chain in Kazakhstan.

A recent report by Verite, a US-based non-governmental organization (NGO), documented the exploitation of foreign migrant workers in several countries, including the US.

Human Rights Watch has published a report entitled Hellish Work: Exploitation of Migrant Tobacco Workers in Kazakhstan, which not only corroborates the existence in Kazakhstan of many of the same abuses of migrant workers addressed by Verite; the Human Rights Watch report also documents the frequent use of child labor.

The owners of the Kazakhstan tobacco fields contract to sell their product to the Kazakhstan subsidiary of Philip Morris International. In 2009, sales of tobacco to Philip Morris in Kazakhstan totaled 1,500 tons.

Echoing some of the findings of the Verite report, migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan told Human Rights Watch that "some employers confiscated their passports, failed to provide them with written employment contracts, did not pay regular wages, cheated them of earnings, and forced them to work excessively long hours."

Furthermore, according to Jane Buchanan, senior researcher in the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch and author of the report, "We found six families who were trapped in situations amounting to forced labor. 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."

The report also "documented 72 cases of children working in tobacco farming in 2009, the youngest of whom was 10," despite the fact that "Kazakhstani law explicitly prohibits employment of children in tobacco farming." Children are especially vulnerable to the health hazards posed by tobacco farming, including exposure to pesticides as well as the effects of handling the tobacco leaves themselves. The report cites a study which found that workers in tobacco fields can absorb, in one day, the amount of nicotine that is found in 36 cigarettes.

Confronted by Human Rights Watch with the findings of the report, Philip Morris stated that it had developed a Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) policy that prohibited child and forced labor in its supply chains. However, as Buchanan told the
N ew York Times, "Companies are supposed to have policies to recognize and rectify problems with human rights in their supply chain."

Philip Morris then committed to changes in its policy, "including requiring employers to provide written contracts, establish regular wages for workers, stop passport confiscation, and enforce the prohibition on the use of child labor." The company also promised to provide training for its staff in Kazakhstan to ensure that such abuses do not occur in the future.

The report also recommended that the government of Kazakhstan investigate complaints of abuse by migrant workers and enforce existing laws prohibiting forced labor and passport confiscation.


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