Respecting the rights of the child, raising supply chain standards
Respecting the rights of the child, raising supply chain standards

Children being exploited or hurt just isn’t right and can never be acceptable.  Children who are deprived of fulfilling their potential is something we must all try to change especially where we can take action or exert influence.

With this in mind I am pleased and proud to work for a company that collaborates to address the issue of child labour and is actively engaging to raise standards in the supply chain.

This company is Imperial Tobacco, which as a successful international business with a total tobacco portfolio, has high standards integral to its operations – whether that’s encouraging the farmers who grow tobacco crops to adopt more sustainable practices, or working with retailers to ensure that products are only made available to adult smokers. Working on such a scale the company makes various contributions from wealth creation and employment, to being able to positively influence in the supply chain and working collaboratively to raise standards.

Operating responsibly means more than following guidelines, respecting the law and complying with regulation. It means innovating so that business is better placed to help address global challenges such as energy efficiency, sustainable forestry, prevention of illicit trade as well as working towards the elimination of child labour. This is important for any organisation which wants to enable employee pride, positively engage with stakeholders and have strong foundations for on-going commercial success.

Like in other sectors, the operators in tobacco are unable to successfully tackle the matter of child labour alone, especially when considering the scale and complexity of the issue, which is linked to different cultural norms, poverty and disease.  Within this context the tobacco industry forged a unique multi-stakeholder approach, through the creation and development of the Foundation for Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco-growing (ECLT).

The ECLT involves trade unions, tobacco companies, suppliers, growers’ associations and is advised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Since being originally established in 2001 and through to the end of 2011, the ECLT has worked to address child labour in 7 tobacco-growing countries, through 19 projects. These have ranged from educational investments to water pumps, from practical stoves that reduce fetching wood by children to awareness and local capacity building.

Imperial Tobacco supports the ECLT and its work, as part of a wider corporate responsibility programme and to help address child labour, where there is a lack of direct influence, within the supply chain.  Patronage is more than just financial – Imperial Tobacco contributes as an active member of the ECLT Board, supporting projects on the ground where possible and ensuring that the company’s responsible sourcing programme is promoted with tobacco suppliers, with a strong emphasis on the elimination of child labour. Whilst there is a huge way to go, these are considered important steps in addressing the right of the child, both directly and indirectly.

In terms of direct influence Imperial Tobacco’s leaf suppliers are expected to comply with generally accepted international standards, as well as any local laws and regulations, in relation to the employment and Human Rights. Supplier dialogue is structured through the Social Responsibility in Tobacco Production (SRiTP) programme, which includes the monitoring of child labour, farmer standards of living and capacity building. Supplier scores and reviews show that a steady improvement has been achieved, over the past years, which should better enable children to attend school and remain in full-time education.

The SRiTP programme works well as it is based on a partnership approach, recognising that it is unrealistic to expect every supplier to achieve best practice on all of the issues immediately. An annual action plan helps suppliers to progress at rates better suited to their own circumstances whilst facilitating continuous improvement. That said, continual poor performance, or inadequate progress is not acceptable and there are consequences.

During 2011 minimum standards were introduced within the programme, to reflect the highest priorities considered important in relation to the sustainability of leaf supply. These included working environment, child labour and natural resource management.

The standards were communicated to all tobacco suppliers informing them that future purchases would be at peril if suppliers persistently failed to achieve these minimum requirements. The immediate supplier feedback was good and Imperial Tobacco’s own regional agronomists have since engaged in key geographical areas to assist suppliers in improving their social responsibility performance. This has been positively reflected with the annual performance score, reported in Imperial Tobacco’s 2012 Annual Report and Accounts, having risen by 5% based on the previous year.

At present in the UK, we see that there are debates in relation to a ‘Transparency in UK Company Supply Chains Bill’, which proposes legislation to make companies disclose an annual statement on the measures taken to promote and respect a variety of human rights, within the supply chain. This may or may not prove to be another step on the journey towards eliminating child labour and to better enabling the potential of individuals.

Whatever the outcome we should not underestimate the complexity or scale of the child labour issue and must continue to seek collaborative solutions, with a collective voice, against the wrongs of child labour and exploitation, in whichever sector or supply chain it may manifest.

Kirsty Mann is a Senior Corporate Responsibility Manager at Imperial Tobacco Group and member of the ECLT Board

Respecting the Right of the Child, Raising Supply Chain Standards
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