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Group tours North Carolina tobacco fields; claims worker abuse is common

Washington – After a recent visit with workers in tobacco fields and labor camps in North Carolina, members of an international delegation said they were shocked and saddened to see widespread worker abuse.

The group, which included Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), two members of British parliament, and officials from the AFL-CIO and Farm Labor Organizing Committee, visited fields that supply American and British tobacco companies and said they found that injuries and harassment were common for the workers, many of whom are undocumented and easily exploited.

During a July 28 press conference call, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre said that one worker lost a finger but received no immediate care, while another worker – a 13-year-old girl – said she first started working on tobacco farms when she was 7 years old to help provide for her family.

“We can do a lot better,” Gebre said. “No one in this country should go to work with a fear of bodily injury.”

The visit followed a May 14 report by Human Rights Watch that outlined the health problems of young tobacco workers who had been exposed to poisons.