Report: Child workers up against tough conditions, health risks in Indonesian tobacco fields

 Report-Child-workers-up-against-tough-conditions-health-risks-in-Indonesian-tobacco-fields. JAKARTA, Thousands of children as young as 8 are working in hazardous conditions and risking their health in Indonesian tobacco fields so that companies can make billions of dollars, a new report said Wednesday.

Indonesia, the world’s fifth-largest producer of tobacco, employs thousands of child workers to harvest the crop and sell to national and multinational tobacco companies. Wednesday, a report issued by Human Rights Watch said thousands of children as young as 8 are working in difficult and hazardous conditions in Indonesian tobacco fields with insufficient regulatory oversight. File Photo by Budinarendra/Shutterstock

The 119-page report from Human Rights Watch, titled, “The Harvest is in My Blood: Hazardous Child Labor in Tobacco Farming in Indonesia,” details the trying conditions child workers must endure to cultivate tobacco in the Pacific Rim nation — and notes that not enough is being done to protect them.

Among the tough conditions, the report states, are extreme heat, dangerous harvesting practices and exposure to nicotine and other toxic chemicals.

The report says the fact that major tobacco companies are effectively creating the market — and, thus, facilitating the tough work conditions — and making billions is a factor that the firms and regulatory officials should take more seriously.

“Tobacco companies are making money off the backs and the health of Indonesian child workers,” report co-author Margaret Wurth said. “Tobacco companies shouldn’t contribute to the use of hazardous child labor through their supply chains.”

The largest tobacco companies operating in Indonesia include PT Bentoel Internasional Investama, which is owned by British American Tobacco, and PT Hanjaya Mandala Sampoerna Tbk, owned by Philip Morris International. Other Indonesian and multinational companies also purchase tobacco grown in Indonesia, HRW said.

The report calls on the Indonesian government to take steps to protect child workers who are subjected to long work days under such challenging conditions — such as instituting a sweeping education campaign to promote awareness of industry health risks.

Human Rights Watch based the report on interviews with more than 200 people between the ages of 8 and 17. Half of the children surveyed said they have experienced various ailments during the course of their work — including vomiting, headaches and nausea — which experts say is caused by the absorption of nicotine in their young bodies.

“I was throwing up [after being] so tired from harvesting and carrying the [tobacco] leaves. I threw up so many times,” the report quoted a 13-year-old worker as saying.

The report’s research included three Indonesian provinces that account for about 90 percent of the country’s tobacco production — East Java, Central Java, and West Nusa Tenggara.

Indonesian law states that the minimum full-time work age is 15, but it allows children between 13 and 15 to work light schedules as long as they don’t interfere with school. That stipulation, though, the report says, is not being followed in some fields.

“The work could have lasting consequences for their health and development,” HRW stated. “Companies should ban suppliers from using children for work that involves direct contact with tobacco, and the Indonesian government should regulate the industry to hold them accountable.”

Indonesia is the world’s fifth-largest tobacco producer and is home to about a half-million farms.

By Doug G. Ware