Power Relationships Between Global Tobacco Companies and Local Farm Workers in Malawi
Marty Otaņez, Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco, 530 Parnassus Avenue, Suite 366, San Francisco, CA
Objective. To assess the opinions of labor leaders with the tobacco farm workers union and officials with the local grower's group with global tobacco companies in the Association for the Elimination of Child Labor (AECL) in Malawi. Methods. Analyses of internal tobacco industry documents and ethnographic data on labor leaders and tobacco growers in Malawi obtained between 1997 and 2003. Results. The Tobacco Association of Malawi (Malawi's growers' group) established the AECL in 2001. The purpose of the AECL was to increase public awareness about the harmful consequences of child labor among farm workers, and to build a school for the children of farm workers in Malawi. The AECL received virtually all of its funding of $200,000 for 2003-5 from the Elimination of Child Labor in Tobacco Growing Foundation in Switzerland, a non-governmental organization developed in 2000 by British American Tobacco and other groups supportive of industry interests. The Ministry of Labor and the tobacco workers' union partnered with the growers' group and global tobacco companies in the AECL. Ethnographic interviews with the different partners show that tobacco companies' practices of colluding over prices for raw tobacco leaf at auction and excluding labor leaders in subsequent child labor projects showed bad faith or untrustworthiness on the part of tobacco companies in the partnerships. Tobacco companies used and continue to use partnerships with trade unions and other local groups in child labor projects to co-opt or neutralize opposition to farm worker abuses and unfair tobacco buying practices in Malawi.