Press Releases
April 27, 2011
Contact: Susan Hurley, Jobs with Justice 773-412-2386 and Nancy Coleman, FLOC 301-587-1034(O); 301-537-0172(C)

Chicago Activists Join International Call to Protect Human Rights of Tobacco Farm Workers

Community leaders urge British Consulate to help end industry abuses

Chicago, IL —

At noon on Wednesday, April 27, union and community leaders will hand-deliver a letter to British Ambassador Nigel Sheinwald at the British Embassy in Washington, DC, asking him to urge British American Tobacco (BAT), which owns the controlling share in the U.S. tobacco giant Reynolds American, to end “widespread and egregious” human rights abuses against U.S. tobacco field workers.

In Chicago, a copy of that letter will be delivered to the British Consulate by representatives of Jobs with Justice, the Chicago Federation of Labor and other local organizations. Similar deliveries are slated for the consulates in Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Houston, Miami, Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco. 

The letter cites “widespread and egregious violations” on tobacco farms in North Carolina, which supplies the largest share of the U.S.-grown crop. These include:

“.  . . tobacco farm workers in North Carolina are exposed to pesticides and nicotine poisoning in the fields—while they endure squalid farm labor housing.  There is no protection for these workers if they complain or are fired for seeking union representation to help them improve their working and living conditions. . .

“We believe you will agree that these workers’ desperate situation is something that no civilized society can tolerate, and we hope that you will use your good offices to urge BAT to take a leadership role in safeguarding human rights by insisting that the companies and suppliers they do business with must abide by the same code of corporate social responsibility they established for their own company.”

In London on Thursday, April 28, at BAT’s annual shareholders’ meeting, FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez will present a new report detailing the abuses of workers in the U.S. tobacco supply chain and will urge BAT to take immediate steps to ensure that all of the companies in its supply chain respect and follow the standards spelled out in the company’s corporate code of conduct.

“We are urging the company to back up its words of support for human rights with monitoring and enforcement,” said Velasquez. “Through its control of Reynolds, BAT has the power and the moral obligation to take action to end these abuses.”