A new report from Human Rights Watch titled “Tobacco’s Hidden Children: Hazardous Child Labor in US Tobacco Farming” was released today. The report provides a shocking expose how children working on tobacco farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia are systematically exposed to high levels of nicotine and pesticides. Child labor on tobacco farms is legal in these states.

Child Labor tobacco farm

According to the report, children working on tobacco farms regularly experienced vomiting, nausea, headaches and dizziness, all symptoms found in cases of nicotine poisoning. Many children also reported being forced to labor long hours without overtime pay, frequently in hot weather with minimal shade and limited breaks. Furthermore, in most cases the children were provided with inadequate protective gear for the dangerous job.

The new Human Rights Watch report is based on interviews with 141 child tobacco farm workers, ranging in age from age seven to 17.

Statement from report co-author

“As the school year ends, children are heading into the tobacco fields, where they can’t avoid being exposed to dangerous nicotine, without smoking a single cigarette,” explained Margaret Wurth, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and report co-author. “It’s no surprise the children exposed to poisons in the tobacco fields are getting sick.”

“Tobacco companies shouldn’t benefit from hazardous child labor,” Wurth continued. “They have a responsibility to adopt clear, comprehensive policies that get children out of dangerous work on tobacco farms, and make sure the farms follow the rules.”

Child labor: Other risks

The Human Rights Watch report also highlighted other serious risks faced by children working on tobacco farms. Older children are often asked to use dangerous tools and machinery, Children of all ages are required to lift heavy loads, and climb several stories without protection to hang tobacco in barns.

Pesticides are another serious risk faced by tobacco farm workers. Several respondents reported pesticides were regularly sprayed in nearby fields. The reports detailed that the spray drifted over to the tobacco fields, making the children vomit, feel dizzy, have breathing problems and suffer from burning eyes.