Malawi tobacco estate workers have not benefitted..

August 10, 2009 - British colonizers introduced tobacco into Malawi over 100 years ago. When the country got its independence in 1964, President-for-life Kamuzu Hastings Banda took control of the tobacco estates. He increased cultivation and made the country even more economically dependent on the crop. Malawi, tobacco is the major export crop - responsible for 70 per cent of all export earnings.

While Malawian estate owners and international multinational tobacco firms have been reaping from tobacco, ordinary Malawian estate workers have not been benefiting.

Tobacco Tenants and Allied Workers Union of Malawi (TOTAWUM) Secretary General for the central region of Malawi, Edson Gideon said his organization was receiving many complaints from tobacco tenants. “Many tenants are complaining that they are facing a lot of hardships in tobacco estates at the hands of their managements,” said Gideon. He added that one major complaint is that tobacco tenants are not benefiting from growing tobacco because they get very low income. “Most of their benefits are eroded by hefty deductions by estate owners. These people [tenants] are not just very poor, but illiterate, ignorant of their rights at work, and even afraid to speak out of the hardships they are going through,” said Gideon.

Gideon said most tenants choose to suffer in silence than to openly speak about the hardships they are going through because are afraid of losing jobs if estate owners discover that they were talking out their problems.

The Centre For Social Concern (CFSC), said its research reveals that despite that tobacco production is associated with economic development, employment provision, and contributes over 70 per cent of Malawi’s foreign exchange growers are becoming poorer. It says the powerful forces behind Malawi’s tobacco dependent economy are US subsidiaries Limbe Leaf, Stancom and Dimon which together purchase over 95 percent of the tobacco crop and sell it to global cigarettes firms like Phillip Morris and British American Tobacco.

“The study revealed that tobacco workers live in extreme poverty and are subjected to high exploitation,” said CFSC Executive Director Jos Kuppens adding that it was also reported that the situation has become more serious since the advent of market liberalization. He further said the majority of the tobacco workers (tenants and contract workers) work without contracts written or oral. It was revealed that their produce is under-priced due to deliberate under-grading done by the estate owners.
This practice leaves most of the estates workers with huge debt,” said Kuppens.

He further claimed that many land lords on tobacco estates deny workers basic necessities such as medication; food when they run out of their monthly allocation, safe drinking water and housing. “Some respondents reported to have gone without food for two or more days during the time of the survey. More over, estate workers are not entitled to annual or maternity leave, transport facilities, medical scheme, death gratuity,” said Kuppens.

He said his organization recommended that the draft Tenancy Labour Bill that was prepared by Malawi Government through Ministry of Labour be tabled in the next sitting of Parliament. “This Bill emphasizes written contracts between tenants and landlords covering things like transportation of tenants, food provisions and accommodation, and fair repayments schemes,” said Kuppens.

Related news brief: Malawi - how can this country survive without tobacco??; BAT using illegal tactics to get African youths to start smoking..; British American Tobacco (BAT) - 100 years in Africa...

References Growing tobacco without buffing benefits by Frazer Potani, Lilongwe, Malawi, African News, 8/7/2009; Up in Smoke - transcript, LifeOnline.