Philip Morris International
Published 4 years ago.
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Image: Philip Morris International
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Philip Morris International.
Child labor and other labor abuses are recurring problems characteristic to tobacco-growing and other agricultural communities in countries such as India. But Philip Morris International’s Agricultural Labor Practices is creating a step change.
In tobacco growing, child labor and other labor abuses are recurring problems
characteristic to many agricultural communities. Underlying issues may be found
in perpetuating cultural traditions, however a key root cause lies in the
precarious economic situation of many smallholder farmers around the world.
Philip Morris International (PMI) is committed to
eliminating child labor from its tobacco supply chain; and importantly, to
acting upon the root causes of labor abuses through a global, farm-by-farm
program. This includes:
mandating a set of standards to ensure safe and fair working conditions, to
be followed by over 350,000 farmers around the world from whom PMI sources
increasing compliance and control by eliminating middlemen and employing
2,600 field technicians, who train farmers and workers and monitor labor
practices on the ground;
providing direct help to address root causes of problems; for instance, by
increasing farmers’ revenues and school attendance by children; and
ensuring third-party monitoring, transparent reporting and corrective
actions in case of non-compliance.
PMI’s process to address cases of non-compliance with its standards | Image credit: PMI
In a recent Sustainable Brands
PMI outlined the work it is doing with its Agricultural Labor Practices
(ALP) program. Since its inception in 2011, the ALP program — co-developed
with Verité, PMI’s strategic partner and a leading global NGO in responsible
supply chains — has made encouraging progress. In 2018, 93 percent of the
tobacco purchased by PMI was sourced through direct contracts with farmers,
either by PMI affiliates or its suppliers. The monitoring data, covering 88
percent of the contracted farms, showed that, out of the more than 300,000 farms
visited by field technicians, 98 percent were free of child labor.
Image credit: PMI
As PMI is progressing toward its target of zero child labor in its tobacco
supply chain by 2025, here’s how it has been acting through targeted social
interventions in Vinukonda, at the heart of India, in an agricultural
area whose small farmers and workers deliver on the global demand for tobacco.
As part of the rollout of its comprehensive ALP program across Asia, PMI
launched the program in Vinukonda in 2013 through its supplier, Godfrey
Phillips India (GPI).
Any company that implements robust policies around ensuring a safe and fair
working environment for farm workers and their children will face complex
challenges. But this is especially true when existing practices are based on
cultural traditions that may not necessarily conform to ALP standards — and when
behaviors are deeply engrained in the economic and sociopolitical fabric. The
farmers who work Vinukonda’s land come from its rural communities, where the
farms are crucial to the health of the local economy. Multiple challenges in
enforcing India’s laws in this sector also originate in culture-driven, difficult
labor conditions in the farming communities.
To understand the prevalence of children in Vinukonda’s tobacco fields and gain
more accurate visibility of the issues on the ground, GPI first needed to get to
the root cause. It began by building comprehensive farm profiles, assigning
field technicians to collect the demographics of the farms and conduct regular
farm-by-farm monitoring. In the first year of the ALP roll-out in Vinukonda, the
process — including the reports of non-compliance — required improvements to
ensure it would effectively depict the situation and issues on the ground.
One of the foremost issues? That child labor in Vinukonda’s rural communities is
primarily driven by poor-quality education and schooling infrastructures, as
well as too few schools and after-school recreational activities, but also many
farmers use child labor because they fail to understand the health risks of
engaging in tobacco-related farming
When GPI began to communicate the ALP code requirements to farmers in Vinukonda,
it had to start by addressing these challenges. GPI considered the issues it
uncovered as an opportunity to initiate social interventions to address the root
causes and engage with local stakeholders in the tobacco-growing communities to
ultimately improve the labor conditions in the farms. Key initiatives were
selected and started, and have continued to expand ever since, through
collaborations with PMI and third-party NGOs.
In 2015, GPI also began working with a leading local NGO to engage with local
communities and initiate a school rehabilitation program in Vinukonda, intended
to improve school facilities through repairs of its buildings, the provision of
safe drinking water, the establishment of separate toilets for boys and girls;
and the provision of basic school yard landscaping, including simple playgrounds
for children. While unsophisticated, these additions have helped attract more
children to attend school, with teachers and parents commenting that the project
was effective as both school enrolment and attendance improved.
Comparing the attendance rates before and during the after-school activities,
school records in 2017 and 2018 show an increase in children’s attendance to
schools for the months of January and February, the peak of tobacco season, when
the risk of child labor is the highest.
To complement this initiative and address the risks of children engaging in
tobacco tasks after their classes, PMI also partnered with its local
implementing partner to introduce after-school recreational and learning
activities in most of the rehabilitated schools. These additional after-school
activities contributed to children’s improved enrollment and attendance.
As of 2019, there were 35 schools providing after-school programs, reaching a
total of 3,684 children, of which 63 percent are children of tobacco farmers and
tobacco workers. GPI’s monitoring, which includes unannounced visits, showed no
incidences of child labor in the areas where after-school activities were
Talluri Paul, a farmer with a child in third grade at a refurbished local
school, said, “The improvement in the schools has encouraged my child to spend
most of the school hours at school. … I am proud to have my child at such a fine
Looking ahead, in 2020, GPI plans to expand the rehabilitation program to cover
at least 12 more schools. In parallel, it will introduce “Kids’ Day” sessions in
additional villages to further raise awareness of child labor and the health
risks of engaging in tobacco-related farming tasks to both children and their
parents, through entertaining activities and roleplays.
Encouraged by the positive results to date, GPI is committed to continuously
improving its farm-by-farm monitoring and field technicians’ skills to identify
and address potential child labor incidences in Vinukonda. It has also
introduced a stricter consequence-management approach, including non-renewal of
farming contracts in cases of recurrent issues on child labor found in farms;
however, to date, there have not been any recurrent child labor issues found in
For more information on the work that PMI is doing to improve labor practices
in its tobacco growing supply chain, listen to the Sustainable Brands
For more information on the implementation of PMI’s ALP program in India, read
the recent progress
on PMI’s website.
Published Nov 12, 2019 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.