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Audit Finds Children Working in Tobacco Fields

An audit commissioned by Reynolds American identifies instances of minors working in unsafe conditions on contracted tobacco farms across the south, including in Kentucky. (Greg Stotelmyer)
An audit commissioned by Reynolds American identifies instances of minors working in unsafe conditions on contracted tobacco farms across the south, including in Kentucky. (Greg Stotelmyer)
May 9, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Children are working on tobacco farms - some of them, in hazardous conditions.

That's one of the findings of an audit commissioned by Reynolds American of its 373 contract farms in seven states, including Kentucky.

The audit company, Footprint BenchStrength, found 40 percent of farms employing minors were not complying with federal law, and a portion of those had kids performing hazardous work.

Justin Flores, vice president for 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 work with labor contractors," says Flores. "And they're certainly not as caring and concerned for their well-being as their parents or grandparents or uncles would be."

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

In a statement on its website, Reynolds American says it 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 says it regularly performs audits to assess the safety and conditions on contracted farms.

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

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

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

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY