RICHMOND, Va. — Philip Morris International Inc. announced Wednesday that it is partnering with two U.S. tobacco leaf suppliers to buy its tobacco rather than working directly with farmers.
The seller of Marlboro and other cigarette brands overseas said the agreements with Virginia-based Universal Corp. and North Carolina-based Alliance One International Inc. take effect in April and will help the company “achieve important supply chain efficiencies while remaining a major purchaser of U.S.-grown tobacco.” About 35 Richmond-based employees will be impacted by the change.
Philip Morris International, based in New York and Switzerland, already works with Universal and Alliance One to purchase tobacco all over the world. According to its website, more than 70 percent of Philip Morris International’s tobacco comes from Brazil, Turkey, the U.S., Malawi, Indonesia, China, Argentina, Philippines, Mozambique and Tanzania.
The move will also require the leaf suppliers to adhere to Philip Morris International’s policies that prohibit workers under 18 from some of the most hazardous tasks, including harvesting tobacco. The company does allow children to work with seedlings or in barns sorting dried tobacco leaves, but it may prohibit those activities depending on circumstances.
In May, a Human Rights Watch report raised concerns about children working on U.S. tobacco farms. Nearly three-quarters of the children interviewed by the group reported vomiting, nausea and headaches while working on tobacco farms. Those symptoms are consistent with nicotine poisoning, often called Green Tobacco Sickness, which occurs when workers absorb nicotine through their skin while handling tobacco plants.
The report by the international rights group jumpstarted efforts from public health advocates and lawmakers to get kids off tobacco farms. Two years ago, the Obama administration backed off a rule that would’ve banned children from dangerous agriculture jobs. Human Rights Watch, which had previously noted that Philip Morris International has the “most detailed and protective” labor policies, applauded the company’s move Wednesday.
Philip Morris International is the world’s second-biggest cigarette seller, behind state-controlled China National Tobacco Corp. Richmond-based Altria Group Inc., the owner of Philip Morris USA, spun off Philip Morris International as a separate company in 2008. Altria is the largest U.S. cigarette seller.
BY MICHAEL FELBERBAUM, AP Tobacco Writer