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September 25, 2017

International Effort Gains Momentum to Protect NC Tobacco Workers

A global organization is calling for additional protections for tobacco farm workers in North Carolina and the rest of the world.

The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations, or IUF, passed a resolution in Geneva, Switzerland, to guarantee farmworkers the right to work together to negotiate the conditions of their labor without fear of retaliation. Catherine Crowe is with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, the farmworker union representing workers in North Carolina.

“We see a lot of issues in North Carolina, mainly farmworkers having a lack of representation, a lack of freedom of association,” Crowe said; “which means that when farmworkers come across issues like wage theft, poor housing conditions, pour working conditions, if they speak out, they’re risking their jobs, so they have no job security. ”

Crowe said workers in North Carolina and other parts of the world face poverty wages, child labor, lack of access to water and job insecurity.

Later this month at the Farm Labor Organizing Committee convention, members will vote on a proposed boycott of Reynolds American products to protest working conditions of employees.

Crowe said since Reynolds American has holdings in businesses that reach far beyond tobacco, the boycott will extend beyond the industry.

“Our own membership is looking to pass a resolution that would start a boycott of a Reynolds American tobacco product which is their e-cigarette, Vuse, and so that would be a national boycott,” she said. “But we’re going to be looking to target the companies that sell that product as well, like 7-Eleven and other convenience stores.”

On its website, RJ Reynolds – the parent company of Reynolds American – said since it doesn’t directly employ farm workers or grow its own tobacco, it has limited control over working conditions. The company has said it’s working with contract farms to improve working conditions.

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