May 31 is World No Tobacco Day. For people in British Columbia,
the issues that initially come to mind on the subject of tobacco are
smoking in multi-unit dwellings, smoking in parks and beaches, and
One of the themes for World No Tobacco Day for 2012 is how the
tobacco industry has stepped up their efforts to have their way with
national governments. A high-profile example of this is plain
packaging for cigarettes, which is enacted in Australia, and under
consideration in the United Kingdom. You can read more about it here.
Here's another one for British Columbians: child labour. Marty
Otañez, a friend of Airspace, has published a paper
about the tobacco industry's use of child labour in Malawi, the
country that has gotten the most publicity in this regard. The
tobacco industry's use of child labour is also widespread in The
Philippines, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and India.
This is serious. Children that are exploited like this don't go to
school or do other things that children normally do. Children that
work in tobacco fields are beaten, sexually abused, and poisoned by
the high exposure to nicotine.
OK, so you don't shop at WalMart, or buy cigarettes. Sorry, you're
still not off the hook on this. Your Provincial government, through
the agency British Columbia Investment Management Corporation
(BCIMC), holds shares in at least seven tobacco companies, at last
count. They hold $103 million worth of British American Tobacco
(BAT), one of the biggest customers of child labour-produced tobacco.
They also hold shares in Sousa Cruz, the Brazilian subsidiary of BAT
and another major offender.
BCIMC is supposed to operate at arms length from the Provincial
government, and they tend to fly below the public radar screen.
However, BCIMC has standards that they are supposed to operate by;
you can read them here.
Yes, these standards include the fundamental standards of the
International Labour Organization. For that reason, investment in the
tobacco industry by BCIMC should be an automatic “fail.”
It's time to get your MLA, cabinet ministers, and the Official
Opposition interested in this.
A Berlin-based organization, www.unfairtobacco.org,
is taking on the larger issue of tobacco cultivation. Not just the
labour standards, but damage caused by deforestation and pesticides.
This article was also published on the Airspace Action on Smoking and Health site.