April 30, 2014–Today, at British American Tobacco’s annual shareholders meeting, Chairman Burrows spent a considerable amount of time during his remarks addressing the issue of labor rights in Reynolds’ supply chain.
After several years of pressure from FLOC and its international allies, BAT clearly feels that this is an issue the company must address. As Reynolds American’s largest shareholder, owning 42 percent of the company and appointing 5 of its board members, BAT can have great influence in the way Reynolds does business and handles problems in their supply chain.
Unfortunately, Burrows says that BAT believes that the multi-stakeholder initiative formed by Reynolds and other tobacco companies in 2012, after FLOC and Oxfam American released a report exposing serious human rights violations in NC tobacco fields, is the solution to those problems. While the group has proposed various cosmetic solutions to farmworkers’ problems, like increased training, housing projects, and complaint hotlines, the group has failed to address the issues of worker representation, freedom of association, and the state of fear in North Carolina tobacco fields.
Following the meeting, President Velasquez commented, “I was glad to hear a good amount of discussion about US farmworkers at the meeting. Clearly BAT sees this as an important issue to address and Chairman Burrows committed to continued conversation with Reynolds. But now we need more from them than just conversation, we need them to use their considerable influence with the Reynolds Board of Directors to push the company to guarantee freedom of association on their contract farms. They keep talking about the multi-stakeholder process as the solution to farmworkers’ problems, but in reality the only solution is for farmworkers to be able to join together and speak out against abusive conditions themselves. They are the only ones that can address the day to day abuses and monitor mis-treatment. And BAT needs to make sure Reynolds respects their right to do that without fear of retaliation.”
Rhys McCarthy, National Officer of Unite the Union, and Ron Oswald, General Secretary of the IUF (pictured above), along with representatives from the AFL-CIO and the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility on behalf of the National Farmworker Ministry, joined President Velasquez inside the meeting.