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Posts Tagged ‘child labour’

Where there is smoke there is fire

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

By Madeline McInTyre

smokeMark takes a drag on his cigarette, the ember flares momentarily between his fingers. ‘Aaaah’ he sighs, the relief is instantaneous as his body eagerly receives its nicotine hit. It is freezing, a sharp wind is sweeping in from Wellington’s harbour, but he and the other teen smokers brave the cold for the long-awaited lunchtime smoke break. Sucking back over 4000 chemicals with every drag, Mark is inhaling products that can be found in floor cleaner (ammonia), car batteries (cadmium), gas chambers (hydrogen cyanide) and rocket fuel (methanol). With every inhalation, Mark’s life expectancy is being cut shorter and shorter. Smoking is killing him.

He isn’t the only one - far from it. Over one billion people smoke on a daily basis and around 80,000 to 100,000 children under the age of 18 start smoking every day. Tobacco use kills 5.4 million people a year and this number is increasing. Sadly, smokers aren’t the only victims of the powerful international tobacco industry known as ‘Big Tobacco’. As Mark slowly burns his life away, another person, perhaps the child who picked the tobacco leaves that are in Mark’s cigarette, is being slowly poisoned by nicotine.

Growing Pains
Tobacco is grown throughout the world. The industry claims that some 33 million people are involved in tobacco farming world wide. Originating from the Americas, the majority of tobacco is now grown in China, which produces 40 percent of the global tobacco crop every year. More and more tobacco is being grown and exported from majority world (developing) countries such as India, Indonesia and Malawi.

Tobacco plantation

Tobacco plantation

These countries often have bigger or more pressing problems than opposing or regulating the tobacco industry. In fact, tobacco companies are often actively - or at least tacitly – encouraged to continue to expand. In countries where poverty is rife and where people exist at a subsistence level, some governments welcome tobacco companies because of the potential employment and income they bring. Tobacco giants find it easy to take advantage of the fact that people are desperate for work. They have little difficulty employing cheap labour, and often this is child labour.

As in most areas of agriculture in the majority world child labour is prevalent in the cultivation of tobacco. Children, often working alongside their families, are used in many areas of production such as sowing new seedlings, fertilizing and watering crops, weeding, and plucking tobacco leaves. Often, they are expected to operate heavy machinery within factories and roll hundreds of cigarettes every day.

In Malawi, the world’s fifth largest producer of tobacco, children working in tobacco fields are expected to work from first light until dark. The humid weather means that residual moisture on the tobacco leaves helps nicotine to be absorbed into the skin more quickly, making the threat of nicotine poisoning a daily concern. Otherwise known as green tobacco sickness (GTS), these children are exposed to the equivalent of 50 cigarettes a day, causing nausea, headaches, abdominal pain and breathlessness. No one knows yet what the long term effects will be.

New horizons, new smokers
It seems that as well as capitalising on child labour, the tobacco industry is also targeting young people in the majority world for the consumption of tobacco products. Smoking rates in the minority world (developed) are on a downward slide, largely due to better information about the dangers of smoking, the success of anti-smoking campaigns, and laws aimed at restricting cigarette smoking. So Big Tobacco has turned its attention to easier targets. They have set their sights on the majority world, not only as a cheap and easy place to set up production, but also as a booming new market.

Boys selling cigerettes in Indonesia

Boys selling cigerettes in Indonesia

To get life-long customers it helps to target youth. Adolescents are impressionable and want to grow up quickly. Research has shown that when smoking is promoted as a cool ‘adult’ activity, young people will be drawn to it.  For example tobacco companies spend millions of dollars every year having their branded tobacco products featured in films (Hollywood, Bollywood and even Wellywood!), on clothing and associated with rock icons such as Alicia Keys, whose tour of south-east Asia was promoted by a tobacco company (much to her disgust when she found out!).

Tobacco companies use subliminal methods to promote smoking to the youth market and cleverly tap into the youth subculture. They sponsor free rock concerts and sporting events. In majority world countries where such events are perhaps rare or rarely available to the poor, such treats make a huge impact on young people.

Despite their website claims that they are ‘responsible’ and ‘don’t want children to smoke’, the programmes tobacco companies have set up to prevent young people smoking have been shown to be weak at best. British American Tobacco, for example, say that they work with retailers as “a front line in the battle against under age smoking” but this is an empty gesture. Retailers make their living from selling. They have no incentive to not sell cigarettes.

So, what is being done?

cigarette-buttTobacco Treaty
Five years ago the World Health Organization’s Tobacco Treaty came into force. It is the world’s first and only public health treaty and 168 countries have signed up to it. The treaty obliges governments to protect their people from exposure to tobacco smoke and reduce demand through high prices and taxes, regulating packaging and labeling and also by restricting advertising and sponsorship. This was a huge step in the fight against Big Tobacco. Despite this, World Health Organization director-general Dr. Margaret Chan estimates only slightly more than five percent of the world’s population is protected by national smoke-free laws.

It seems that while Big Tobacco’s influence is retreating in minority world countries such as Aoteoroa New Zealand, with smoking rates being at an all time low, it is on the march across the new frontier of the majority world. The already vulnerable populations are easy targets for the tobacco giants as they dominate the largely unregulated markets and take advantage of the cheap child labour on offer. Whether they are working in the tobacco fields or buying cigarettes in the market place, children in the majority world are at a greater risk of falling victim to the poisonous influence of Big Tobacco.


  • Sign up to and help work towards an Aoteoroa New Zealand that is free from the harm caused by tobacco.
  • Check out the websites or for facts on smoking and help on quitting.
  • Insist that your school is a smokefree environment ( and support smokefree events such as the annual Smokefree Rockquest.
  • Sign up to international organisations such as ECLT (Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing).



Majority world – The developing world is increasingly being defined as the majority world. It refers to countries that make up the majority of the world’s population, but have limited access to the world’s resources.

Minority world – The developed world is increasingly defined as the minority world. It refers to the countries that make up the minority of the world’s population but utilize the majority of the world’s resources.

This article was originally published in the Global Focus pages of Tearaway Magazine.

Right the wrongs with chocolate

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Cassandra Scott-Laffey

fair-trade-small1When we think of child rights, chocolate is not the first thing that springs to mind. But, when you stop and consider how that chocolate got on our shelves, you will find that child labour plays a large role.

Seventy percent of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa where thousands of children are forced to work on plantations. These children, most of whom are under 14 years old, work 12 to 14 hour days in harsh conditions; they are often beaten and abused, fed one measly meal a day and paid just a few cents.

They are being denied a proper life, an education and a chance to have a say in the matter. They are being denied their rights!

Why is this allowed?
There is a huge demand for chocolate – we LOVE the stuff. Billions of dollars are spent on it worldwide every year!

Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) is the biggest producer of cocoa, with over half a million cocoa farms. Every year, thousands of children are forcibly taken from their homes and sold into slavery to work on the plantations. This problem is particularly bad in Ivory Coast as years of corruption and civil war have resulted in two factions fighting each other, the breakdown of families and increasing poverty.

While I am happy munching on a piece of chocolate, the children working on the cocoa plantations clearly do not receive a standard of living that anyone would be happy with.

What is being done?!
Major companies in the chocolate industry, such as Cadbury and Nestlé, have been challenged about child slavery, yet have been slow in responding. In the past, they argued that little could be done because there was no way of telling where the cocoa originated. But this was just an excuse!

Attempts have been made to improve the situation. For example, in the US, legislation was passed that tried to implement a labelling system for chocolate, which then led to the establishment of the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI). One of the ICI’s responsibilities is to ensure children are not being exploited, thereby eventually ending child labour in the industry. Although good in theory, it has yet to have any real impact.

There are some positive things happening though - Cadbury’s dairy milk chocolate in the UK will be fairtrade certified by the end of the year. With your help things can only get better from here.

Guilt-free chocolate
Fair trade ensures that communities get a decent percent of the money earned from selling their produce, and therefore the producers get to live happier and healthier lives. By receiving a decent wage, people can provide food for their families, and the whole community becomes wealthier, meaning they are able to provide for and develop future generations.

The rising availability of fair trade products has been raising awareness about issues like human rights abuses and child slavery. As demand increases for things like fair trade chocolate, it becomes even more accessible, meaning people actually get a say in where their chocolate comes from. Fair trade provides consumers with a choice, so buyers can take a bite out of their chocolate without the bitter taste of guilt.

Want to take action Check out the ideas in That’s not right! also by Cassie Scott Laffey.

That’s not right!

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Cassandra Scott-Laffey


Human rights are everyone’s rights
Everyone in the world is entitled to rights that allow us to live happy and healthy lives, such as the rights to liberty, security, an education, freedom of opinion and a life free of discrimination, torture and slavery.

These rights can be found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR was approved in 1948 by the General Assembly of the United Nations with the intention of ensuring an acceptable quality of life for all people.

Even though, to someone like me, they seem like simple and logical ideas for how we should be allowed to live our lives, not everyone enjoys these rights, due to factors such as corrupt governments, war or poverty.

I don’t have to worry about these problems personally, but any of us could have been born into a different situation. I am grateful for the life I lead and the fact that I don’t have to fight for basic rights, and I want to help those that aren’t so lucky!

Millions of people throughout the world, many of them children, have their rights violated, or ignored, on a daily basis. Children are especially vulnerable, as they can’t always have their say, and don’t always have someone to speak for them. This is why 191 countries have adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC). This document covers the particular rights that protect children while they are still dependent on others. Unfortunately, for many children around the world, their needs and rights still get overlooked. This could be because their rights aren’t always the first priority when a family is just trying to survive, or it could simply be because people are not educated about child rights. But none of these reasons should be considered acceptable.

You can change the world
While it may appear that we can’t stop human rights violations on our own, we can raise awareness of it so that together we can create change for a better future. One voice is small, but many voices saying the same thing together can change the world. Even buying a bar of fair trade chocolate can make a difference!


Wherever things aren’t right, just one person can be enough to make a difference. Here’s what you can do:

  • Buy fair trade whenever possible and keep an eye out in August for Trade Aid’s campaign on slave labour and the chocolate industry.
  • But don’t feel guilty about eating your favourite chocolate bar, even if it isn’t made with fair trade cocoa; you just have to make a stand. Write letters, send emails and put pressure on the manufacturer to help put an end to child slavery!
  • Support Stop the Traffik by joining the global movement of people from around the world who believe that people should not be bought and sold
  • Become a human rights champion in your community and join your local Amnesty International group or, if there isn’t one, start one


For more information read Cassie’s other article Right the wrongs with chocolate and visit the following websites:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
Trade Aid
Fair trade pros and cons
Fair trade
The International Cocoa Initiative

This article was originally published in Tearaway Magazine.

Escape to hope

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

By Josh Wright

overcoming_photo1It’s difficult to perceive lifestyles that are different from the relatively privileged ones that many New Zealanders live. Although not perfect, the rights of children are strongly enforced in our country and this helps towards creating a safe and supportive society for us to grow up in.

This is not true in many parts of the world. Every day, across the globe, 250 million children (73 million under the age of 10!) go to work. These child labourers commonly work 12-18 hour days, for little money and are often forced to work in dangerous environments. They are likely to receive very little or no education. These children may work to contribute to the family income. Some children are used as debt bondage and work in order to pay off their parent’s loan. Others are orphans who lost parents to HIV/AIDS.

In India, although there is governmental policy which makes employing children under the age of 14 illegal, loop holes exist (or the law is just ignored) and there are an estimated 30-50 million child labourers through out the country.

One of those children was ten-year-old Lavanya, who was sent by her parents to serve as a maid and errand-runner to a family who lived eight hours drive away from her hometown. Her parents gave away their daughter in exchange for $132.00 US dollars a year. Lavanya was beaten by her employers and for two years was made to work from 6am to 9pm.

Talk about overcoming adversity! Lavanya decided this couldn’t go on and used tips given secretly to her by house guests to buy a train ticket and escape to the Indian city of Nellore. Here she encountered a worker for Kalaiselvi Karunalaya Social Welfare Society, an organisation that works with runaway street kids. Lavanya was supported to return to her hometown and family and is no longer working, but instead, she is receiving proper schooling.

Lavanya has hope for the future again.

50 facts that should change the world

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

By Jessica Williams

learningAt the risk of sounding sensationalist…did you know that a third of the world is at war, 30 million people in Africa are HIV positive and more than 150 countries use torture.

The facts and information provided in this book is often missed, glossed over or hidden by government and the media. So to continue: cars kill 2 people every minute, landmines kill or maim a person every hour…

You can join our library and get books and DVDs out for Free!

The bitter side of chocolate

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006

Eva Lawrence, Just Focus Coordinator

Whether you are a whitey, darkie, nutty or gooey on the inside what we all have in common is that we love chocolate. Oh chocolate, it is one of those rare pleasures that releases endorphins and keeps us coming back for more… well enough on that.
cocoa beans
When you find out about where chocolate comes from and the unfair conditions that people experience to bring us that magic bar, it can leave a nasty bitter taste in your mouth.

Chocolate comes from the cocoa bean and is produced tropical countries. Most of the world’s cocoa is grown in West Africa — the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and the Cameroon. Almost half of the cocoa worldwide comes from the Ivory Coast.

Conditions for people working on cocoa farms are often terrible. Poverty is extreme, hours long and tasks unsafe. Child labour is common on cocoa farms, and these children often lack any chance of gaining an education as they are working from a young age.

In the Ivory Coast slavery is also occurring. Children and young men, many from neighbouring Mali are being sold or tricked into slavery. Child slaves are forced to work long hours, are underfed and of course, not paid. They are kept in inhuman conditions — often locked in at night so they can’t run away. Those that do try to escape are physically punished.

Chocolate in New Zealand

  • Cadburys claim to source their cocoa from Ghana and Malaysia
  • Whittakers claim to source their cocoa from Ghana
  • Nestle source their cocoa from a number of countries including the Ivory Coast.

(Source: Oxfam)

Bitter Ingredients
Cocoa prices are unfair and unstable on the international market. A small number of multinational corporations control the market and exploit the need of poor farmers to have an income — once the crop is grown a low price is better that no price. Therefore exporters are competing for sales by offering the lowest prices. This means that farmers have few options other than paying their workers low wages.
3 men in ghana sorting cocoa beans
Cocoa makes up a significant part of the income of some West African Countries. For the Ivory Coast for example, approximately one third of the national income comes from cocoa. Cash cropping has replaced the diverse and locally sustaining farming of the past. This means that the population is dependent on earning money from international markets to earn money to be able to buy food. Cash cropping, as well and removing the independence of communities, also creates vulnerability of economic collapse due to natural disasters, pests and crop disease.

Poverty, as always, is a huge factor in the unfair conditions. Most of the enslaved workers come from Mali, which is one of the poorest countries in the world. Young people hoping for work in neighbouring countries have been easy prey for child traffickers.

The sweeter side - Fairtrade
There is a positive side to this story though. Fairtrade cooperatives have been set up for cocoa growing in a number of countries. With fairtrade, farms are guaranteed a fair price for their cocoa and the workers receive a fair wage. Fairtrade certification forbids the use of slave labour or children working if it interferes with their education or in dangerous conditions. Furthermore, money is paid to invest in developing the community and schools

Global Links
kids in Ghana
Chocolate, which is so associated with positive stuff here in Aotearoa New Zealand, is directly linked with a whole lot of very negative stuff in some poor countries. It is a clear illustration of the link between us all in this globalised world. As is the case in many trade situations, we in the west gain goods from the labour of those in developing countries The good thing about this link is that we can do something about it.

There is no need to give up your chocolate addiction, but there are a number of things you can do to make chocolate sweeter for everyone.


  • Join the fair-trade chocolate campaign!
  • Fairtrade Fortnight goes from April 29 to May 13 2006— Get involved
  • Write to your favourite chocolate company and tell them you want them to use fair-trade cocoa
  • Buy fair-trade chocolate — available from Trade Aid and some health food stores.


Fairtrade Association of Australia and New Zealand
Trade Aid

This article was originally published in Jet magazine in the Focus column. All photos courtesy of Oxfam.