Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
New report from Christian Aid raises concerns over the safety of growing tobacco.
A tobacco farmer who claims he has been made permanently ill as a result of growing tobacco is taking Souza Cruz, the Brazilian subsidiary of British American Tobacco (BAT), to court.
Souza Cruz is a 74% owned subsidiary of British American Tobacco and also uses the same corporate logo and colors. It directly contracts over 45,000 small-scale family farmers in Brazil who cultivate, on average, fewer than two hectares.
José Wanderlei da Silva, a 32-year-old farmer who grew tobacco under contract to Souza Cruz until 2000, believes the pesticides he was sold by the company have left him permanently unable to work. He now suffers from severe depression and has a condition similar to chronic fatigue syndrome. Souza Cruz denies responsibility saying Wanderlei da Silva was an independent contractor, not an employee. They also say they gave him training, advice and proper protective clothing was made available to him.
Wanderlei da Silva's story is told in a new report from Christian Aid, "Hooked on Tobacco," which raises serious concerns about the health and safety of farmers working for Souza Cruz in southern Brazil. The report also shows that farmers in Brazil believe that they receive an unfair price for their tobacco. It accuses British American Tobacco, a powerful multi-national company, of failing to live up to its own standards of corporate social responsibility.
"José Wanderlei da Silva's story raises important concerns about the health and safety of BAT's contract tobacco farmers in Brazil," says Andrew Pendleton, author of the new report. "But Christian Aid's report indicates that his case may be the tip of the iceberg. Many farmers say they suffer a catalogue of similar illnesses that seem to be related to the tobacco-growing season. Christian Aid is calling for an independent scientific study to establish the extent of the damage to their health."
Christian Aid's report is based on a two-year investigation into the relationship between BAT's subsidiary, Souza Cruz, and the farmers it contracts to grow tobacco. As well as concerns about ill health from pesticide use, the report illustrates how farmers become hooked by credit on the company's prescriptive system of growing tobacco.
The report investigates concerns from farmers that:
"BAT makes ambitious claims about its responsible behavior but, through its Brazilian subsidiary, is not meeting those standards," says Andrew Pendleton. "Christian Aid believes that global corporations must be held legally accountable at a global level for their own actions and those of their subsidiaries."
"Hooked on Tobacco" is launched as part of Christian Aid's "Trade for Life" campaign which is arguing for a world trading system which explicitly and deliberately works to promote the interests of the poor. A key dimension of this is Christian Aid's call for the establishment of international, legally binding regulation of transnational corporations (TNCs) to set minimum human rights and environmental standards.
The report is available on the web at http://www.christian-aid.org.uk/indepth/0201bat/index.htm.
Source: Christian Aid press release, February 4, 2002.
Contact: Christian Aid, PO Box 100, London SE1 7RT UK; email firstname.lastname@example.org; Web site http://www.christian-aid.org.