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British American Tobacco Feels Heat Over Reynolds' Refusal to Meet

Jeremy Sprinkle
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Protests go down outside U.K. embassy, consulates

While Reynolds American stubbornly refuses to meet with tobacco farmworker representatives at FLOC, corporate parent and major Reynolds American stockholder, British American Tobacco (BAT), is coming under fire for not doing more to end human rights abuses in Reynolds' tobacco fields.

Last week outside the British embassy in Washington, DC and British consulates in nine other major cities, supporters of justice for tobacco field hands rallied and delivered messages urging the government of the United Kingdom to pressure BAT to take affirmative action to bring Reynolds American executives to the bargaining table with FLOC.

Click here to see pictures from the FLOC protest outside the U.K. embassy in Washington, DC.

On April 27, FLOC also took its message directly to BAT executives in London, AFL-CIO Now reported:

Meanwhile in London, a delegation led by Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) President Baldemar Velasquez met with a small group of BAT corporate officials at the company’s headquarters. BAT promised to hold another larger meeting next month with workers to discuss conditions in the U.S. tobacco fields, according to FLOC. This is the first time any corporation with close ties to Reynolds American has agreed to meet with workers. For at least the past four years, Reynolds has refused to meet with representatives of workers.

The next day, Velasquez delivered the key findings of a damning human rights report by Oxfam America to the annual BAT shareholders meeting:

"We are urging the company to back up its words of support for human rights with monitoring and enforcement. Through its control of Reynolds, BAT has the power and the moral obligation to take action to end these abuses."

Reynolds American controls the price it pays, the amount it buys, and from which farms it will purchase tobacco. Reynolds uses this system to bully farmers, and it encourages the very exploitation FLOC is trying to stop. From AFL-CIO Now:

At the British embassy rally, Nick Wood, a FLOC organizer, told the crowd that tobacco workers are some of the most exploited people in the world. He said the workers are exposed to pesticides and nicotine poisoning in the fields and live in squalid housing. Workers have no protection, he said, if they complain or are fired for seeking union representation to help them improve their working and living conditions.