Sunday, 13 June 2010

Fair Trade And The Tobacco Industry

I watched a documentary the other night from the Unreported World series on channel 4 and it really started me thinking.

People nowadays are more conscious of where their food and other goods are coming from and are demanding an end to unfair practices from all links in the chain of supply. Such terms as 'fairtrade', 'ethical sources' and 'sustainable farming' have now become a regular part of consumer society, and rightly so. Along with the rise in our consciousness about the safety and quality of our food (organic and GM free food sales are at an all time high), the average consumer is now also cares about the lives and treatment of those involved in the process of supplying their goods. You can buy fair trade chocolate, tea, coffee, and sugar, wear fair trade cotton and even gift fair trade flowers and beauty products. And this is just a small sample from a long list of 'good' consumer options. Health and ethical trading are very much sellers and many people even take part in boycotts of products and companies that are not up to scratch.

But what about the cigarettes you smoke? Tobacco and cigarettes don't feature in The Good Shopping Guide at all, and online searches for information on ethical or fair trade tobacco and cigarettes is scarce. And there is a good reason for that. Apart from the toxins you are putting in your body every time you light up, buying cigarettes is funding an industry that exploits the poorest and most deprived of all societies. Tobacco harvesters work from dawn picking, sorting and hanging the tobacco. They have a quota to meet in order to be paid and in most cases in order to meet that quota they have to take their children out of school and set them to work as well. Children as young as 3 are known to have to work with tobacco and most suffer the effects of tobacco poisoning from handling so much of it. the example in the documentary - a family of 7 work all day from dawn, have one meal in the day - and earn about 80p. The farm owner/manager wants to be able to pay the workers more, not employ children and provide protective clothing, but he cannot afford to. At auction it is thought that tobacco companies have conspired to keep prices low and that the governments of some of some of the biggest tobacco producing companies in the world have been bribed to allow this to happen. These are the same tobacco companies that make billions of pounds of profit every year. The companies and governments get rich while the workers and their children get sick.

Because the price is so low, the farmers plant more tobacco. So much has been planted for so long that the ground is unsuitable for growing anything else. Anything that is actually useful to the people who live on the land such as grain. Some families are so poor that they send their children to work on estates for tobacco farmers - and they get paid at the end of the season if their child has met their quota. Other families borrow money from the farm owners and are therefore unable to leave until their debt is paid off. This is known as bonded labour. Because the children need to work on the tobacco farms in order to be able to afford their one meal a day, they cannot go to school. Missing out on their education means they will have less chance of ever having employment away from the tobacco farms and estates. Whole nations are growing up to be poorly educated due to tobacco farming - and therefore the cycle will continue for generations to come until serious action is taken to stop it.

So, as well as heart disease, passive smoking, premature aging, strokes, lung diseases, birth defects, addiction, cancer and death, the tobacco industry is also responsible for child labour, human trafficking, unfair working practices, modern day slavery (bonded labour), political corruption, unsafe working conditions, price fixing and keeping nations of people in poverty.

As well as the lump in my throat and the sickness in my stomach I am left with the question - it costs you more money than most people can afford, it smells bad, It must taste even worse, it's extremely unethical and will ultimately kill you, so why do so many people smoke?

Please watch the documentary and do some research for yourself. This is truly shocking and all the fair trade and sustainable farming on the planet will not make up for it.


Today's recommendation is a real treat for all of you in the North Carolina area. AIM member Street Poet Monte Smith is performing a show TONIGHT at LOUNGE 101, 2801 N MAIN ST (Across from Walmart) starting at 9pm. BE THERE if you can!

*Santa Maria*
Vice President of The AIM

"Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally."
(Abraham Lincoln)

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