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Audit: Children Working on NC Tobacco Farms

An audit commissioned by Reynolds American identifies instances of minors working in unsafe conditions on contracted tobacco farms in North Carolina. (fluffymuppet/flickr.com)
An audit commissioned by Reynolds American identifies instances of minors working in unsafe conditions on contracted tobacco farms in North Carolina. (fluffymuppet/flickr.com)
May 5, 2016

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Children are working on North Carolina's tobacco farms – and some of them are working in hazardous conditions, according to an audit commissioned by Reynolds American of its contract farms in the Tar Heel State.

The audit company – Footprint BenchStrength – found that 40 percent of farms surveyed employing minors were not complying with federal law. In addition, a portion of those minors was performing hazardous work.

Justin Flores, vice president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), says this isn't just a matter of children working on family farms.

"Most of the folks talked about in the study worked with labor contractors and they're certainly not as caring and concerned for their well-being as their parents or grandparents or uncles would be," Flores stresses.

Footprint BenchStrength noted in the audit that worker housing and family labor were outside the scope of the commissioned report.

In a statement on its website, Reynolds American says the company doesn't employ farm workers or grow its own tobacco and therefore the company has "no direct control over their sourcing, their training, their pay rates or their housing."

The company regularly performs audits like this one to assess the safety and conditions on contracted farms.

Today FLOC organizers plan to protest outside of the Reynolds American shareholder meeting at the company headquarters in Winston-Salem.

Flores says it's important to recognize that questionable labor conditions on North Carolina farms go far beyond tobacco and extend to the state's food supply.

"We will see change as we continue to publicize and educate people about what's going on in the fields, reminding people it's not just tobacco, that these folks that are working in tobacco are also harvesting your sweet potatoes, strawberries, cucumbers," he states.

All minors interviewed reported having been trained in general farm safety, including recognition of heat stroke and green tobacco sickness.


Stephanie Carson/Scott Herron, Public News Service - NC