11 May 2011 | Angeline Albert
A lack of formal
purchasing agreements between Philip Morris International’s (PMI) Kazakh
subsidiary and its suppliers puts workers rights at risk.
A report produced by non-profit group Verité,
and commissioned by PMI, found the use of child workers, and other violations
of labour rights, at tobacco farms that supply Philip Morris Kazakhstan (PMK)
indirectly. PMI commissioned the report after claims of worker abuse at vendors
in the country.
However, they did not
breach local law or policies put in place by PMI to safeguard against such
issues, because the farmers had not signed formal contracts with the company.
Although PMI has agreed
to establish written contracts - known as leaf purchasing agreements - between
PMK and farmers as per Kazakh law, Verité’s investigation found 11 per cent of
farmers had not signed such an agreement with PMK in 2010.
require farmers to adhere to the law in regard to workers’ rights. Verité said
these uncontracted farms put PMK at risk of breaching labour standards and
workers were at risk because what happens on these farms is not monitored. Workers
at non-contracted vendors were also found to be earning considerably less
money, because they must sell through contracted ‘middlemen’ who take a cut of
earnings. Although Kazakh law stipulates working a maximum of 36 hours per
week, staff often reported working more.
“As Verité’s report
shows, many challenges remain,” said Martin King, senior vice-president
operations at PMI in a statement. “In Kazakhstan and elsewhere, PMI is
committed to work with governments, NGOs, farmers, workers and other
stakeholders to progressively eliminate child labour and other labour abuses in
He added the company
would set up specific training programmes with suppliers, farmers and workers
to improve labour practices.
The report also said
PMK’s contractual focus on the owner of the land, as per Kazakh law, sometimes
creates a contractual ‘gap’ in the chain where the landowner delegates daily
operations to a manager - even though the farmer is contractually committed to
observing labour laws. Verité said these sub-contracted farm managers may not
adhere to obligations, and recommended PMK identifies farms run by managers and
train them as well.
PMK was also urged to
build up the capacity for staff to visit farms to identify underage workers.
The report also said the relationships between children and adults on farms needs
to be established to avoid the possibility of child trafficking.