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Child tobacco pickers: TV documentary discovers children as young as 11 working in sweltering conditions – Mirror Online

Shocking TV expose: Scandal of 11 years olds picking tobacco…later sold to a British cigarette giant

4 Nov 2012 12:04

Young kids in Indonesia are working long hours in sweltering conditions to boost a cigarette maker’s profits, TV investigation reveals

Grim pickings: TV probe sees girls of 11 working on tobacco farms

Grim pickings: TV probe sees girls of 11 working on tobacco farms

Channel 4

Children as young as 11 are working for hours on end in sweltering heat with materials that can POISON them.

If it was in the UK there would be an outcry and bosses would be arrested.

The men paying a pittance to hire the youngsters in these pictures are beyond the reach of our laws – in Indonesia.

But their child labour is alleged to be boosting profits of a powerful London-based multinational company, British American Tobacco.

Kids who should rightly be in school are sent out to collect leaves from rows of green tobacco plants.

Painstakingly they have to sort their pickings into piles before the harvest is gathered up by a village buyer who sells them to tobacco giants including BAT.

What the children are not told is handling the plants at such a tender age could play havoc with their health.

Through their palms and fingertips they can absorb nicotine from the leaves resulting in green tobacco sickness (GTS). Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea and fainting.

An investigation by TV’s Unreported World to be screened on Friday accuses BAT and others of buying tobacco leaves from farms using child labour.

The Channel 4 programme-makers say of the scandal: “Toxins are absorbed through the skin and workers can suffer acute nicotine poisoning.”

BAT, listed on the London Stock Exchange, produces a wide range of brands including Dunhill, Rothmans, Kent, Lucky Strike and Pall Mall.

Unreported World - Children smoking tobacco

Tar baby: Maulana Susanto, six, started smoking aged two in Indonesia

Channel 4

Now British buyers of its products will be shocked to hear the multinational is allegedly cashing in on child labour.

Unreported World to ok TV cameras to Malang in Indonesia’s East Java province and found two 11-year-old girls, Jum and Mita, sorting tobacco.

Their workmate Supriadi is a boy of 12. He starts picking leaves in the afternoon and works for four hours straight for poison f j just £1.50.

Local tobacco buyer Arifin Peni claimed BAT representatives visit villages throughout the area to inspect crops and try to insure they are sent the best leaves .

BAT said: “We do not employ Children in any of our operations and make it clear to all of our contracted farmers and suppliers that exploitative child labour will not be tolerated.”

But Peni believes there are no checks made on the youngsters working in the fields. He said they are careful about employing young Children “in the factories, yes” but added: “Regulations for Children working here on the farms don’t exist. The regulations are for the warehouse. The factories don’t know about child labour here. Warehouse regulations don’t apply here.

“I buy from farmers and then send it on to the warehouses for a profit.”

As well as the dangers from handling plants, kids in Indonesia can easily pick up heavy smoking habits.

There is no age limit on buying cigarettes and brands are advertised aggressively. Maulana Susanto is only six and has been smoking for FOUR years. The shy lad has recently cut down on his packet-a-day habit but the cigarettes he smokes still have three times the tar yield of the strongest in Britain.

His mum said: “He’s been smoking since he was two. He was on a pack a day. Now he goes to school just one or two cigarettes are enough.

“Yes I want him to stop but nobody comes to help me.”

Unreported World - Children picking tobacco

Graft: Boy of 12 with his ‘toxic’ harvester

Channel 4

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country after China, India and the US with 238 million people, is a huge and fast-growing market for cigars and cigarettes. The tobacco industry provides 10 per cent of national income and 10 million jobs. There are 19 million smokers and 200,000 deaths a year related to it. A senior tobacco industry insider told Unreported World that companies such as BAT appear to aim ads at young adults.

Indonesia is one of only a handful of states that refused to sign the UN Tobacco Control Agreement which restricts the marketing of cigarettes. New health minister Dr Nafsiah Mboi is angry about the damage the tobacco companies are doing to her nation’s population including the impact on child health.

She said: “I think the tobacco industry have used all their skills and resources to get hold of these kids. The number of people who have started smoking between five and nine years of age has increased sevenfold. It is a sin.

“Why are the authorities protecting the tobacco industry when they know so many young kids are victims?”

BAT said: “We are keen to look into this. Despite asking the programme makers several times for precise details of the farm’s location they have refused to tell us exactly where it is.

“We take the issue of child labour extremely seriously and firmly agree that children must never be exploited, exposed to danger or denied education.”

* Unreported World: Indonesia’s Tobacco Children, Channel 4 , 7.30pm, Friday

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