By Gregory Gondwe
JTI Leaf Malawi Ltd, a member of the Japan Tobacco Group of Companies (JT), a leading international tobacco product manufacturer has launched a
multi-year program to help eliminate child labour in two of Malawi’s major tobacco growing districts of Lilongwe and Ntcheu.
The program to be called Achieving Reduction of Child Labor in Support of Education (ARISE) has been developed in partnership with Winrock International and the International Labour Organization (ILO), with the involvement of Malawi government.
Director for JTI Leaf Malawi Ltd Neville Young said the programme has been designed to address the social and economic factors that drive small-scale tobacco farmers to employ children in hazardous work.
The program is designed to promote the access to quality education for children, raise awareness on child labor, improve the livelihoods of the tobacco growing communities where JTI does its business, and address labor practices together with governments.
“Child Labor is an important concern for JTI. By strengthening our relationship with tobacco growers and their communities, we hope to play our role in fighting against child labor,” he said.
“With the expertise of our partners, Winrock International and the ILO, and the support of the government of Malawi, we hope to learn along the way and constantly improve the program,” he said.
Malawi Programmes Director Winrock International Bertha Mkandawire said child labour results from a number of challenges, including poverty, inaccessible and poor education systems, weak agricultural infrastructure, and unemployment.
“Winrock therefore takes an integrated approach that supports positive change in education, livelihoods, and agricultural development. We are pleased that JTI has fully embraced this integrated approach in an effort to make sustainable reductions in child labour in the tobacco sector of Malawi,” she said.
On their part ILO-IPEC Chief Technical Adviser Hassan Khalid said through ensuring that the ARISE program is anchored in, and contributes to Malawi’s tripartite National Plan of Action against Child Labor, ILO-IPEC will promote that the changes that the project aims for – children out of child labor and in school, parents with improved livelihoods and decent work, effective laws and policies in place – are country-led and sustainable.
“JTI recognizes the power of such a program to demonstrate that the elimination of child labour in tobacco growing communities is possible, and we look forward to the success of this groundbreaking partnership in Malawi”, he said.
JTI’s head of corporate affairs and communications Limbani Kakhome disclosed that the programme has been specifically developed for JTI in the tobacco grower communities where the company purchases its leaf.
At the launch of the program in Lilongwe on February 22, Kakhome said the ARISE campaign touches on an issue that has come to be appreciated as a complex challenge in tobacco growing communities around the world.
“This is the exposure of children to tobacco farms as laborers. It is better known as Child Labour,” he said.
Worldwide, Kakhome says millions of children are involved in tobacco and given that Malawi is one of the leading producers of tobacco, the country has not been spared from the vagaries of hazardous child labour.
“Most of those children who are caught in the Child Labour triangle should normally have been in school,” he said adding that due to various socio-economic circumstances, they are however pushed out of the classroom and forced onto the tobacco fields.
Malawi’s Labour Minister Dr. Lucius Kanyumba who presided over the event said perhaps the program will answer challenges of child labour that the tobacco industry has been haunted with for long.
Through this initiative, JTI has set out to promote access to quality education of children living in tobacco growing communities.
Through ARISE campaign, JTI hopes to foster conducive learning environment at selected community schools across the country where it will help to rehabilitate infrastructure, involve parents to take part in running of schools, and increase the community’s acceptance of the schooling system.
“We will also strive to discourage those cultures that impinge on progressive pursuit of basic education,” declared Kakhome.
At the moment, he disclosed that JTI is already working with about 2,700 facilitated farmers in 15 districts who are reaping the fruits of improved extension services and also receive loans from banks to help with their tobacco farming every marketing season.
While taking a leading role in this initiative, JTI has enlisted the support of a cross-section of relevant collaborating partners in the tobacco sector like the Malawi Government through the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry Education and other departments.
Kakhome said they have chosen to work with Winrock International because of their expertise in designed projects for specific needs like the one for JTI in Malawi.
Winrock is a US-based development organization with vast experience on issues of Child Labour.
JTI has a track record of working with ILO in the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), and when the approached them on the Malawi project they accepted to partner them according to Kakhome.
Kakhome said JTI appreciates that eliminating hazardous Child Labour will not be an easy fight.
“This is why through ARISE, we are taking a holistic approach that takes into account all facets of the problem. We have brought together a cross-section of key stakeholders who have committed their best arsenal in the concerted fight against Child Labour exploitation. Together we shall conquer,” he declared.
Child Labour is still rampant in Malawi, with at least 37 percent of the children between five and 15 years of age reported to have been involved in child labor in 2002. Of these, 53.5 percent worked in agriculture and 42.1 percent in community and personal service sectors.
The rest were divided between other sectors like wholesaling, retailing, quarrying, mining, construction, manufacturing, street work and commercial sexual exploitation.
The Malawi Demographic and Health Survey of 2004 confirmed the situation but the Multiple Cluster Indicator Survey of 2006 showed that the prevalence had actually dropped from 37 percent to 29 percent, a figure that JTI still finds unacceptably high, especially because the tobacco industry commands the largest share of child labour use in the country.
This is not surprising considering that the Malawi economy depends on agriculture, which accounts for about 38 percent of GDP and about 90 percent of the its export earnings.
According to the Reserve Bank of Malawi, tobacco alone makes up 13 percent of GDP and brings into the country more than 50 percent of export earnings, making it the single most important source of income for about 2 million Malawians or 15 percent of the 13 million Malawi population, that is mostly poor.
This is why the project strategy takes a holistic and multi-sectoral approach that combines sensitization, economic empowerment and support to children’s education to achieve ARISE’s goal.
Launching the initiative, JTI Leaf Malawi Limited Managing Director Neville Young said; “The use of child labour can never be justified. We at JTI take the issue of child labour very seriously, and are committed to helping address it within our operating environment, especially in the direct communities where we have facilitated farmers. We believe in the universal right to education for children and through ARISE, our key message is that these children belong to the classroom and not the tobacco field.”
As part of its multi-sector pronged strategy to dealing with Child Labour and its ills, JTI supports the Eliminating of Child Labor in Tobacco-growing (ECLT) Foundation. The foundation is a multi-stakeholder partnership of trade unions, growers and tobacco companies with the ILO as an advisor and financial partner.
It is the ILO which provides funding for field projects and research dedicated to help eliminate child labor in tobacco farming regions across the world.
It is expected that the campaign will reach at least 15 tobacco-growing districts where JTI is working with Facilitated Farmers.
However, Lilongwe and Ntcheu have been appointed as launch nodes for the campaign before it spreads to the rest of the country.
JTI Leaf, the world’s third largest cigarette manufacturer, says the project will also be running in Brazil and it is coming two years after JTI entered Malawi through an outright acquisition of Africaleaf Processors Limited.