Background Tobacco companies have come under increased criticism because of environmental and labour practices related to growing tobacco in developing countries.
Methods Analysis of tobacco industry documents, industry websites and interviews with tobacco farmers in Tanzania and tobacco farm workers, farm authorities, trade unionists, government officials and corporate executives from global tobacco leaf companies in Malawi.
Results British American Tobacco and Philip Morris created supply chains in the 1990s to improve production efficiency, control, access to markets and profits. In the 2000s, the companies used their supply chains in an attempt to legitimise their portrayals of tobacco farming as socially and environmentally friendly, rather than take meaningful steps to eliminate child labour and reduce deforestation in developing countries. The tobacco companies used nominal self-evaluation (not truly independent evaluators) and public relations to create the impression of social responsibility. The companies benefit from $1.2 billion in unpaid labour costs because of child labour and more than $64 million annually in costs that would have been made to avoid tobacco-related deforestation in the top 12 tobacco growing developing countries, far exceeding the money they spend nominally working to change these practices.
Conclusions The tobacco industry uses green supply chains to make tobacco farming in developing countries appear sustainable while continuing to purchase leaf produced with child labour and high rates of deforestation. Strategies to counter green supply chain schemes include securing implementing protocols for the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to regulate the companies' practices at the farm level.
- public policy
- qualitative study
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Funding This work was supported by National Cancer Institute Grant CA-87472, a postdoctoral fellowship to MO from the American Cancer Society, and a grant to MO from the Council of Ethics for the Norwegian Government Pension Fund-Global. SAG is American Legacy Foundation Distinguished Professor in Tobacco Control. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript. Other funders: NIH; American Cancer Society and Council of Ethics for the Norwegian Government Pension Fund-Global.
Competing interests None.
Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the UCSF and University of Colorado Denver.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.