April 8, 2016
President Velasquez returned yesterday from Geneva, where he addressed the Board of Advisors of the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT). The ECLT Foundation works to raise awareness about child labor in the tobacco industry, foster dialogue between stakeholders in the industry, and work with partners worldwide to eliminate child labor and improve communities’ livelihoods and living conditions.
One thing that is missing from the foundation’s guiding principles is guaranteeing the right to freedom of association. President Velasquez met with the Board this week, comprised primarily of tobacco company representatives, to emphasize the importance of freedom of association as a necessary component in eliminating child labor, and provide a step by step account of how FLOC has done it in the past.
“I respect the work that ECLT is doing around the world, but they have always left out the most basic and important part of changing conditions in the fields, which is workers themselves being able to organize,” commented Velasquez, following his meeting with the Board. “To get children out of the fields, farmworkers must be able to safely and effectively organize and negotiate things like fair wages and safe working conditions, and have a mechanism to enforce these terms. In Ohio, we saw child labor virtually disappear as soon as farmworkers were able to negotiate a wage that could support their families, and have access to resources like after school programs for their children.”
In Ohio, following an eight year campaign, FLOC successfully negotiated the first three-party contract between Campbell’s Soup Company, a main purchaser of tomatoes from Ohio farms, tomato growers, and farmworkers. The first step was the establishment of an independent commission, which set the rules and representation procedures and laid the path for the collective bargaining agreement. With the signing of the agreement, farmworkers were changed from independent contractor status to employees, wages increased steadily each year, labor camps were renovated, productivity increased, and head start and childcare facilities were expanded so that every farmworker family had access to education and care. All of these changes led to a dramatic drop in the number of children working in Midwest tomato fields.
These solutions aren’t going to come through regulatory changes. They will only happen when tobacco companies guarantee the right to freedom of association throughout their supply chain. “You have absolute control over your company’s procurement practices. You can define and implement anything you want, including fair pricing for farmers and the right to freedom of association for farmworkers,” Velasquez told tobacco company representatives present at the board meeting. “Governments are not going to re-design the tobacco procurement system. But as responsible manufacturers, you can take the steps necessary to ensure you do not further marginalize poor people in your company’s supply chain, creating a system where child labor is necessary for families to survive. If every global corporation would do this, they could wipe out a huge portion of poverty and child labor around the globe.”