By Marcus Mushonga
Harare — Research by human rights groups has established abusive practices such as child labour and exposure to nicotine poisoning in the production of Zimbabwe’s globally-renowned tobacco.
The damning findings by Human Rights Watch (HRW), disclosed ahead of the resumption of the selling season at the auction floors in the capital Harare today (Wednesday), revealed an industry fueled by impoverished small-scale farmers and vulnerable workers.
These workers, including youngsters, need greater protection from Zimbabwean authorities and tobacco companies, the rights group stated.
Adults and children interviewed for the research reportedly disclosed symptoms consistent with nicotine poisoning such as nausea, vomiting, headaches and dizziness.
“Almost no one we spoke to even knew what nicotine poisoning was, however,” said Birgit Schwarz, HRW Senior Press Officer, said ahead of the official release of the findings set for April.
The report also found evidence of excessive working hours without overtime compensation on large-scale farms.
There were also problems with wages, including labourers having their wages withheld or delayed.
Eventually, some workers, it was reported, were paid less than they were owed.
Among some farms implicated supply multinational tobacco companies.
Zimbabwe is one of the top tobacco producers in world. The crop is the country’s number one export commodity, hence it is known locally as the golden leaf.
Adults are lured into the perilous farming of the crop owing to rampant poverty and unemployment estimated at more than 90 percent.
Children that cannot afford to school are also illegally employed in the farming industry. Zimbabwe has set 16 as the minimum age for work while 18 is the minimum for hazardous work.