Child tobacco workers in the United States have some new allies in Congress. Today, on World Day against Child Labor, 17 US Senators sent a letter to the world's largest tobacco companies, urging them to prohibit hazardous child labor in their supply chains.
The letter, led by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, followed up a Human Rights Watch report finding that child tobacco workers – some as young as 12 years old – work 50 to 60 hours a week on US tobacco farms. These children often suffer symptoms of acute nicotine poisoning, including vomiting, nausea, dizziness, and headaches, from their contact with the tobacco plants.
The Senators weren't alone. In the House of Representatives, all 18 Democratic members of the House Education and Workforce Committee today called for a hearing before the end of June to determine how the federal government can better protect children working on US tobacco farms.
The House lawmakers said they were deeply disturbed by Human Rights Watch's findings and said there was an imminent need to convene the committee to investigate. The Senators noted that other countries – like India and Brazil – prohibit all children under 18 from working in tobacco, and called for industry-wide standards to ensure that all children are protected from nicotine poisoning and other health hazards.
A growing number of US lawmakers find conditions for child tobacco workers unacceptable. But the question is, will the Obama administration – and tobacco companies – act?