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Unsafe Conditions for U.S. Tobacco Farming Children

  • Ben Feinstein
  • May 17, 2014
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If you thought that child labor only happened in places like China then it’s time to think again. Human Rights Watch, an international rights group, has recently released a report that legally employed children on U.S. tobacco farms are not being treated properly. Some farmers have workers as young as seven working in the fields, and more often than not come into contact with leaves heavy in nicotine and pesticides. The watch group wants Big Tobacco to push stricter safety standards on all farms they associate with. The report detailed that there are at least 140 children working on farms in the states of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky.

One of the main issues the report takes aim at is the longer hours that child labor laws allow. The law permits parents to give permission to children as young as twelve and they are allowed to work as many hours as demanded outside of school. Some kids have report nausea, vomiting, and severe headaches. These are symptoms commonly associated with nicotine poisoning. And it’s not because they’ve been smoking too much tobacco. They received no overtime pay, very little break time, and were not provided any protective gear. Erick Garcia, 17, was one of the children interviewed for the report and said that he had been working in the tobacco fields since he was 11. When asked about his days on the farm he was quoted as saying, “The conditions were inhumane.”

Senator Paul Hornback from Kentucky stated that he began working in the fields when he was 10. He now owns 100 acres and while he keeps his workers safe, he doesn’t think stricter guidelines are necessary. This shouldn’t be a surprising answer. The tobacco industry puts loads of money into the political sphere. Greater restrictions and more protective gear translates to Big Tobacco as more money that they have to spend. Children should not be allowed anywhere near a tobacco farm. Their whole lives we tell them that tobacco will kill them but then we turn around and tell them to spend years picking its leaves? There’s the real solution to the problem.


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