Issue date
29 Apr 2014

date: 29 April 2014

Shareholders attending the British American Tobacco (BAT) AGM in London today (Wednesday) are to be urged to put pressure on senior directors at the company to do more to raise the plight of tobacco workers in North Carolina with its American subsidiary.

Baldemar Velasquez, the President of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) – which represents tobacco farm workers in the US – has flown to London to speak from the floor of the meeting about the exploitation of the workers that it is currently unable to represent.

BAT is a major shareholder holding a 42 per cent stake in Reynolds American Inc., the largest tobacco company in North Carolina. The British company is also a big customer of Reynolds, and FLOC believes this puts BAT in an influential position when it comes to setting acceptable standards for the treatment of tobacco farm workers in the US.

Baldemar wants shareholders attending the meeting at the Banqueting House in Whitehall to hear about the poor conditions in which the farm workers live and the nicotine poisoning and exposure to dangerous pesticides which makes them ill. He will also tell the meeting about the long hours the farm workers put in for very little pay.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Baldemar Velasquez said: “Two years ago | spoke at the BAT AGM and warned shareholders and Chairman Richard Burrows of the inhumane way that Reynolds was treating its farm workers. Since then there has been absolutely no progress in addressing the abuse of workers in the BAT supply chain.

“Reynolds American continues to rely on human trafficking to keep its farms supplied with labour and there has been no end to the squalid conditions where they live. Nor has there been an end to the state of fear of retaliation for any worker who dares to complain.

“Reynolds claims that it is taking steps to ensure that exploitative conditions no longer exist on its farms but we have seen absolutely no change in conditions. Only when the migrant farm workers are allowed to join a union will their complaints about their working and living conditions be effectively addressed.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Reynolds may claim to be a good employer but the tobacco workers employed on its farms tell a very different story. Forced to live in squalid conditions, working with hazardous substances, and being paid next to nothing for their efforts, their plight is calling out for international attention.

“Putting their case in the heart of Westminster to shareholders attending the British American Tobacco AGM will hopefully convince senior directors at the company that it can no longer ignore what its US subsidiary is getting up to.

“BAT has a responsibility to make sure that all tobacco workers in its supply chains – no matter where in the world they are employed – are treated well, and work reasonable hours for decent rates of pay.”

NOTES TO EDITORS:

- Late last year the TUC organised a briefing for MPs about the US tobacco workers which was addressed by Baldemar Velasquez. Since then 41 MPs have signed an early day motion showing support for the tobacco farm workers and urging BAT to use its influence to build an agreement between Reynolds American Inc. and the farm workers (http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2013-14/1247

- At the BAT AGM Baldemar Velasquez will be accompanied by speakers from the AFL-CIO (the US equivalent of the TUC), the Farm Worker Ministry, Unite, and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF).

- The IUF has begun a petition calling on BAT to take action and thousands have already signed.

- All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk

- Follow the TUC on Twitter: @tucnews