The British American Tobacco (BAT) and Imperial Brands are expected to file an application at the High Court in London, United Kingdom to dismiss an exploitation case Malawian labourers have filed against them.
Malawian labourers working in tobacco farms filed a landmark lawsuit against BAT and its subsidiaries on December 18 2020, alleging that the tobacco company and its subsidiaries are liable for negligence and have been unjustly enriched.
The labourers allege that in a bid to maximise profits, the companies’ actions have resulted in years of systemic exploitation of poor and illiterate workers trafficked from the south of Malawi to tobacco farms in the country’s Central and Northern regions.
According to Leigh Day, a human rights law firm representing the labourers, BAT plc’s pre-tax profit in 2019 was more than £8.3 billion [over K9 trillion] and Imperial plc’s pre-tax profit was more than £1.6 billion (over K1.7 trillion).
But the law firm states that the workers, at the bottom of their supply chain in Malawi, earn little to nothing for their work and live in terrible conditions trapped on the remote farms in serious food poverty.
The labourers further accuse BAT and Imperial Brands of facilitating unlawful and dangerous conditions, in which the farmers and their children have to build their own homes foraged from mud and thatched, live on a daily small portion of maize and work 6am to midnight seven days a week, adding that they are only paid after harvest.
But according to The Guardian, BAT wants to challenge the case on the basis that lawyers for the farming families cannot prove the tobacco they grew ended up in their cigarettes and other products.
The UK-based media outlet further states that BAT believes there is no legal or factual basis to bring such claims; hence, making the application to have the claims struck off or stayed.
The Guardian on Wednesday reported that both BAT and Imperial Brands spokespersons declined to comment ahead of the hearing other than indicating that they are proceeding with the application.
But a senior partner at Leigh Day, Martyn Day, is quoted as having said despite both BAT and Imperial Brands seeking proof that the families’ tobacco ended in their products, the two companies have refused to disclose documents they hold which will show whether their tobacco is sourced from the specific families that have brought up the claim.
“The heart of the claim is that two of the largest tobacco companies in the world cynically exploited impoverished tobacco farmers from Malawi and their children.
“Fortunately, the two defendant companies are based here in Britain, giving our courts jurisdiction to adjudicate these claims,” Day told the publication.
The Guardian had earlier last year reported about the abuse farmers, their wives and children face in tobacco farms in Malawi, a development that led the human rights law firm to take up the case.
In an earlier statement last year, BAT said it takes issues of child labour seriously and strongly agrees that children must never get exploited, exposed to danger or denied an education.
However, when contacted yesterday, Ministry of Labour spokesperson Christina Mkutumula said the ministry is not aware of the matter, nor is it aware of the specific farmers suing the tobacco firms.