Commodity Atlas


Countries Where Tobacco is Reportedly Produced with Forced Labor and/or Child Labor

Tobacco Commodity Risk Map

Tobacco is reportedly produced with forced labor (FL) and/or child labor (CL) in the following countries:
Argentina (CL)
Brazil (CL)
Cambodia (CL)
Indonesia (CL)
Kenya (CL)
Kyrgyz Republic (CL)
Lebanon (CL)
Malawi (FL, CL)
Mexico (CL)
Mozambique (CL)
Nicaragua (CL)
The Philippines (CL)
Tanzania (CL)
Uganda (CL)
Vietnam (CL)
Zambia (CL)

Top ten countries that produce tobacco worldwide (FAOSTAT 2017):
1. China
2. Brazil
3. India
4. United States
5. Zimbabwe
6. Indonesia
7. Zambia
8. Pakistan
9. Argentina
10. United Republic of Tanzania

Top ten countries that export tobacco worldwide (UN Comtrade 2018)1:
1. Germany
2. Poland
3. Netherlands
4. United States
5. Brazil
6. Belgium
7. China
8. Hong Kong, China
9. Indonesia
10. Singapore

Top ten countries that import tobacco worldwide (UN Comtrade 2018)2:
1. Japan
2. Germany
3. Italy
4. United States
5. Belgium
6. Spain
7. France
8. China
9. Netherlands
10. Vietnam

1, 2 International Trade Center (ITC Calculations based on UNCOMTRADE Statistics).

Where is tobacco reportedly produced with trafficking and/or child labor?

 According to the U.S. Department of State 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report, tobacco is produced with forced labor or forced child labor in Malawi and Mexico.[3]

According to the U.S. Department of Labor 2018 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor, tobacco is produced with forced labor and child labor in Malawi, and with child labor in Argentina, Brazil, Cambodia, Indonesia, Kenya, Kyrgyz Republic, Lebanon, Mexico, Mozambique, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam, and Zambia.[4] The Department of Labor also notes child labor in the production of hand-rolled cigarettes, or bidi, in India and Bangladesh.[5]

Brazil, Cambodia, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon, Malawi, Mexico, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam, and Zambia are listed as Tier 2 countries by the U.S. Department of State 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report. Kyrgyz Republic and Nicaragua are listed as Tier 2 Watch List countries. Argentina and the Philippines are listed as Tier 1 countries.[6]

Tobacco Production and Supply Chain

Tobacco production encompasses the cultivation of several different varieties of tobacco leaves grown for different purposes. Flue-cured, Burley and Oriental tobaccos are three major types used in blended cigarettes. Flue-cured is also known as “Virginia” and “Bright” by the tobacco trade.[30]

Tobacco production and harvesting is labor intensive. Seeds are hand sown into beds and then, after about two months, the seedlings are transplanted into fields. Seedlings are clipped for weeks before transplanting. Fertilizers are applied to fields, and in many developing markets, they are applied by hand. Weeding takes up the largest amount of labor before harvesting.[31] Flowers are either manually or mechanically removed in a process called topping to encourage leaf development.[32] Some types, such as Flue-cured, Oriental, and cigar wrapper, are harvested as individual leaves ripen. Other types, such as Burley and Maryland, are cut near ground level when most leaves are ripe. Harvesting is generally manual. The leaves are then cured, drying and heating them using hot air, fire, or the sun. At factories, leaves are cleaned, de-stemmed and aged, after which flavor may be added. Tobacco is then rolled into cigarettes or bidis, which may have filters added.

Many tobacco producers are small-holder farmers.[33] Tobacco companies (or their supplier affiliates) either purchase tobacco directly from growers or procure it in an auction system. Generally, in a direct buying, or contract system, companies purchase growers’ entire crops. In the contract system, the contract buyer typically provides inputs such as seeds, fertilizers and pesticides as an advance to the farmer, with costs deducted from the ultimate purchase price.[34] The practice of direct contracting can vary between companies. A smaller percentage of harvested tobacco is sold through the auction system. Use of auction systems can increase price instability for farmers[35] and can prevent buyers from using purchasing leverage to discourage business practices related to trafficking and child labor vulnerability.

Tobacco is produced and consumed worldwide. The major producers are China, Brazil, India, the United States, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Zambia, and Pakistan, which together produce over 75 percent of the world’s tobacco. China alone accounts for nearly 40 percent of world production.[36]

Tobacco Worker with Dried Leaves

How do trafficking and/or child labor in
tobacco production affect me?

The most common uses of tobacco are for cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, and snuff. There has been a recent rise of electronic products delivering non-combustible forms of tobacco and nicotine vapor . In the United States, a 2017 National Health Interview Survey estimated that 19.3 percent of American adults use tobacco products. Among those tobacco product users, 86.7 percent smoked combustible tobacco products, and 19.0 percent used two or more types of tobacco products, with cigarette and e-cigarette use being the most common combination found among the latter group.[37]

Examples of what governments, corporations, and others are doing:

The Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT) is a multi-brand funded non-profit organization that works to withdraw children from child labor in the tobacco sector, provide educational opportunities, raise awareness about child labor and provide livelihood opportunities for tobacco growing communities. The ECLT currently runs programs in Guatemala, Indonesia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda.[38]

Since 2011, Philip Morris International (PMI) has collaborated with Verité, an international labor rights NGO, in a strategic partnership to improve conditions for tobacco workers and to eliminate child labor within its global supply chain. The PMI program includes a comprehensive Agricultural Labor Practices (ALP) Code, direct contracting with approximately 350,000 farmers in 30 countries, and training on safe and fair labor practices for employees, suppliers, and farmers. Field technicians gather annual farm profile data on each farm and regularly monitor farms for adherence to the ALP Code. PMI engages third-party monitors to evaluate the program’s performance, and PMI and its suppliers develop corrective action plans to address issues identified, including through implementation of programming to address root causes of labor issues.[39]

Brazil, the world’s second largest tobacco producer, has taken legal measures to restrict child labor in tobacco farming, banning all children under 18 from working in tobacco due to its hazardous nature. HRW found that tobacco buyers convey health and safety information to their farmers via instructors and offer pesticide safety training. Farmers in Paraná, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sol were found to be abiding by the child labor laws due to their awareness of the penalty for employing children. Some tobacco companies also reportedly verify child attendance in schools. While HRW reports that these efforts have been successful at reducing child labor in tobacco, the practice continues, due in part to rural poverty and low earnings for tobacco farmers.[40]

What does trafficking and/or child labor look
like in the production of tobacco?

The nature of trafficking vulnerability and other human rights risks in tobacco growing varies from region to region and depends on the type of labor involved. In general, work in tobacco production is hazardous for both adults and children. Workers use dangerous tools and machinery, lift heavy loads, and may be exposed to intense heat and work at height hanging tobacco in barns. Workers may also be exposed to pesticides, including known neurotoxins. Workers harvesting tobacco leaves without adequate protective equipment are vulnerable to Green Tobacco Sickness, or GTS. GTS, caused by absorption of nicotine through the skin, can cause nausea, vomiting, weakness, headaches, and respiratory symptoms. Children are most vulnerable to these risks, including GTS, as their bodies are still developing. Vomiting can lead to exacerbation of dehydration and heat illness.[7]

In Malawi, most human trafficking risk occurs in the context of tenant farming. Recent estimates show that about 60 percent of Malawi’s tobacco farmers are smallholders who own their land, and 30 percent are estate or tenant farmers who make agreements with landowners to grow and harvest the crop.[8] Formal contracts between tenants and estate owners are rare. Landowners typically pay tenant farmers an agreed cash amount for each kilogram of tobacco delivered.[9] Tenants are generally expected to pay for seeds and other expenses. Tenant households may wait to receive their wages for up to 10 months.[10]

While they wait, they may take advances for food, clothes, and medicine from farm owners, sometimes at inflated rates. The farm owners deduct these advances from farmer earnings. This may contribute to food insecurity, induced indebtedness to the landholder, and child labor.[11] One study found that estate owners are less likely to recruit through district labor offices, instead relying on increasingly aggressive recruitment strategies, including the use of third-party labor brokers. Returning tenants may also act as labor brokers to recruit new tenants.[12]

Research conducted by The Guardian in 2018 found indicators of forced labor and hazardous child labor among migrant tobacco producers in Italy. The Guardian’s reporting noted that migrant workers did not have employment contracts, were paid wages below legal standards, and had to work excessive overtime. They reported having no access to potable water as well as suffering verbal abuse and racial discrimination from superiors. Two interviewees were underage and employed in hazardous work.[13] The European Institute of Political, Economic, and Social Studies (EURISPES) notes in a 2019 report that illegal labor brokering in this area, known as caporalato, has been connected to organized crime.[14]

Child labor is involved in tobacco production in numerous countries. Children may be involved in weeding tobacco fields and/or harvesting and preparing tobacco, particularly when paid labor is not available at rates affordable to small farmers.[15] According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report, NGO research has found that children in Kenya-based refugee camps may be forced to work on tobacco farms.[16] A 2016 report by Terre des Hommes described the recruitment of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, mostly boys, to work in tobacco fields by landowners on whose land they were living.[17]  According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report, day laborers and their children are the primary victims of forced and child labor in Mexico’s agricultural sector. They migrate from the poorest states to the agricultural regions to harvest vegetables, coffee, sugar, and tobacco; receiving little or no pay, health care, or time off, and in the case of children, being denied education. Some laborers are held in debt bondage to recruiters or to their company. While Mexico has the largest amount of forced labor victims in the Americas, estimated at over 375,000, fewer than 1,500 of these people have been identified by government and NGO statistics from 2013 to 2017.[18] The children of migrant day laborers harvest tobacco at the expense of attending school, and the protective gear provided to curb the risk of nicotine poisoning and pesticide exposure poses the risk of heat exhaustion for the children.[19]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) also notes that tobacco is grown with hazardous child labor in the United States and Zimbabwe.[20] In 2014, HRW found children as young as seven working in tobacco fields in the United States. Many of the children interviewed by HRW were children of migrant farmworkers. While they attended school during the academic year, in the summer, they worked in tobacco fields to supplement their family income.[21] In a follow-up report in 2015, HRW reported that, while some companies explicitly ban all hazardous work for children under 18, not all do; although several companies had implemented policies banning children under 16 from working in tobacco farming, this may still leave children 16-18 at risk of working under conditions that are considered hazardous.[22] Children as young as 12 are legally allowed to work in tobacco production outside of the school year, and children 14 and older are allowed to work in nonhazardous positions outside of school hours. Because tobacco production has not been identified as hazardous by the United States, children of any age can legally be exposed to tobacco production hazards if they work for their family farm.[23]

According to field research conducted by HRW from September 2014 to September 2015 in Indonesia, children work for their own family farm to increase family earnings or on other small farms to support their family financially. While children under 18 in Indonesia are legally prohibited from working in environments with harmful chemicals, they are still permitted by law to harvest and prepare tobacco, bringing them in direct contact with nicotine and pesticides. Children as young as six have been found regularly working in the tobacco fields.[24] All children interviewed by HRW reported experiencing symptoms of nicotine poisoning.[25] In 2018, child labor to increase family income was also noted by HRW in Zimbabwe, where child laborers interviewed reported experiencing at least one symptom of acute nicotine poisoning while handling tobacco.[26]

A 2016 ILO study on child labor in Tanzania found that almost 30% of children interviewed were engaged in tobacco production. Regular weeding is performed mostly by girls, and more physically demanding tasks were typically performed by boys, though working children and adolescents can be found doing all tasks.[27] This gender distribution of child labor was found among children in Zambia’s tobacco production as well[28], where tobacco farms employ 75 percent of the nation’s child laborers, as estimated by Chris Lunneta, Zambia’s UNICEF children’s rights ambassador.[29]


  • Watch a video by Human Rights Watch on hazardous child labor in Indonesia.
  • Read about tobacco growing and trade.
  • Read an interactive report by The Guardian on child labor in Malawi.
  • Read a report by Human Rights Watch on child labor in Indonesian tobacco farms.
  • Read the Centre for Social Concern’s study on tenancy labor in Malawian tobacco production.


[1] International Trade Center (ITC Calculations based on UNCOMTRADE Statistics).

[2] International Trade Center (ITC Calculations based on UNCOMTRADE Statistics).

[3] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2018.

[4] United States Department of Labor. List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. September 30, 2018.

[5] United States Department of Labor. List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. September 30, 2018.

[6] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2018.

[7] Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Recommended Practices Bulletin: Green Tobacco Sickness.

[8] Otañez, Marty, Graen, Laura. “Gentlemen, Why Not Suppress the Prices?”: Global Leaf Demand and Rural Livelihoods in Malawi. November 2014.

[9] Philip Morris International (PMI). Sustainability Report. 2018.

[10] Boseley, Sarah. The children working the tobacco fields: ‘I wanted to be a nurse’. June 2018. The Guardian.

[11] United States Department of Labor. List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. September 30, 2018.

[12] Centre for Social Concern (CSC). Tobacco Production and Tenancy Labour in Malawi. International Labor Rights Forum. January 12, 2015.

[13] Muzi, Luca. Italy’s tainted tobacco industry. The Guardian. 2018.

[14] European Institute of Political, Economic, and Social Studies (EURISPES). Agromafie: 6° Rapporto Sui Crimini Agroalimentari. February 14, 2019.

[15] Otanez, Marty. Social disruption caused by tobacco growing;  Study conducted for the Second meeting of the Study Group on Economically Sustainable Alternatives to Tobacco Growing – WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. June 2008.

[16] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2017.

[17] Terre des Hommes. Child Labour Report 2016: Child Labour among Refugees of the Syrian Conflict. June 2016.

[18] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2018.

[19] Lakhani, Nina. Mexico: children toil in tobacco fields as reforms fail to fix poverty. The Guardian. June 2018.

[20] Human Rights Watch (HRW). Tobacco’s Hidden Children: Hazardous Child Labor in United States Tobacco Farming. May 2014.

[21] Human Rights Watch. Tobacco’s Hidden Children: Hazardous Child Labor in United States Tobacco Farming. May 2014.

[22] Human Rights Watch. Teens of the Tobacco Fields: Child Labor in United States Tobacco Farming. December 2015.

[23] Ramos, Athena K. Child Labor in Global Tobacco Production: A Human Rights Approach to an Enduring Dilemma. Health and Human Rights. 2018.

[24] Lamb, Kate. Tobacco fields take toll on Indonesian children. 2018. The Guardian

[25] Human Rights Watch. “The Harvest is in my Blood:” Hazardous Child Labor in Tobacco Farming in Indonesia. May 24, 2016.

[26] Human Rights Watch (HRW). A Bitter Harvest: Child Labor and Human Rights Abuses on Tobacco Farms in Zimbabwe. April 2018.

[27] ILO. Rapid Assessment on Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Communities Tobora Region, Tanzania. 2016.—africa/—ro-addis_ababa/—ilo-dar_es_salaam/documents/publication/wcms_517519.pdf

[28] ILO-IPEC. A Rapid Assessment on child labour in tobacco-growing communities in Kaoma District, Zambia. May 2014.–en/index.htm

[29] Maingaila, Francis. Zambia faces up to blight of child labor. Andalou Agency. March 5, 2016.

[30] PMI. Tobacco Farming.

[31] Ochola, Dr. Samuel Agonda, Kosura, Willis. Case study on tobacco cultivation and possible alternative crops – Kenya. February 2007. INRS.

[32] Plant Village. Tobacco. Pennsylvania State University.

[33] PMI. Agricultural Labor Practices (ALP) Program Progress Report. 2015.

[34] Otanez, Marty. Social disruption caused by tobacco growing;  Study conducted for the Second meeting of the Study Group on Economically Sustainable Alternatives to Tobacco Growing – WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. June 2008.

[35] The Herald. Tobacco farmers deserve a better deal. March 21, 2019.

[36] Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, Statistics Division (FAOSTAT). Crop Production Statistics. 2017.   

[37] Wang, Teresa W. et al. Tobacco Product Use Among Adults – United States, 2017. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  November 9, 2018.

[38] ECLT. Project Countries.

[39] PMI. Sustainability Report 2018. 2018.

[40] Wurth, Margaret. Human Rights Watch (HRW). Tobacco’s Children. Brazil Sets An Example for the U.S. November 3, 2015.