Tobacco tenants have petitioned President Peter Mutharika, urging him to ensure that his administration addresses child labour and “modern-day slavery in Malawi’s tobacco industry”.
In their letter sent through the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), the Tobacco Tenants and Allied Workers’ Union of Malawi (Toawum) has also called for land reforms and support for efforts for the nation to diversify crops, to help lift the 300 000 tenant-farmer families out of poverty.
“We delivered the letter to the OPC on Thursday last week and we are anxiously awaiting a response from the President over the crucial issues we raised in the letter,” Toawum general secretary Raphael Sandramu told The Nation yesterday.
Toawum’s sentiments are backed by a coalition of local and international labour, human rights and health groups.
This is not the first time that State House will have heard loudly from Toawum, which is affiliated locally to the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU) and internationally to the Switzerland-based Tobacco Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF).
Toawum was one of the architects of the Tenants’ Labour Bill 2012 that has been shrouded in controversy and wrangling and has not been passed in Parliament. Some observers have noted that many members of Parliament (MPs) seem reluctant to pass the bill, allegedly because the exploitative practices tenants are currently facing are perpetrated by some farm owners—who include powerful politicians themselves.
Added Sandramu: “We are calling on our government to end all delays and ensure that farmers who have worked land for generations are able to earn a decent living for themselves and their families.
“Tobacco companies are taking advantage of the government and farmers alike to ensure access to cheap tobacco leaves from Malawi. It is time for us to work together to seek a more prosperous path.”
Tobacco is Malawi’s major foreign exchange earner, contributing about 60 percent to foreign exchange earnings.