Child labour is still widespread in the cultivation and processing of tobacco. On World Day Against Child Labour, we once again criticize the consequences of inadequate tobacco control and the insufficient protection against child labour. We call on the German government to promote stronger tobacco control measures internationally and to support alternatives to tobacco cultivation. We also demand that it protects children’s rights at the very beginning of the supply chain and enforces them on the basis of the Supply Chain Act – because tobacco companies have profited from child labour to date.

Increase in child labour worldwide

Child labour worldwide has increased as a result of the corona pandemic. Schools have closed, many families’ incomes have plummeted, and so children must contribute to their families’ incomes. This is why the latest report from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and UNICEF is particularly alarming – the figures even do not yet include the effects of the corona pandemic: 160 million children worldwide work under exploitative conditions. About 70% of child labourers work in the agricultural sector, 72% work with their families, and about 50% work in particularly hazardous conditions. More than half of all child labourers live and work in Sub-Saharan Africa. Corona, the authors estimate, might turn an additional 9 million children into child labourers.

Child labour in tobacco production puts health at risk

According to Article 32 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have the right to be protected from economic exploitation and not to be required to perform work that is hazardous and likely to harm their health and physical development. In the cultivation and processing of tobacco, working children are exposed to chemicals as well as poisoning from the tobacco plant itself, called green tobacco sickness. In addition, a number of other illnesses and injuries can be caused by this work, such as respiratory illnesses, back problems and cuts. Child labour in tobacco production is banned worldwide as one of the worst forms of child labour, according to ILO Convention 182, because it puts children’s health at risk.

Despite this, an estimated 1.3 million children work in the tobacco industry worldwide. This includes working in tobacco fields, in the processing of tobacco leaves, and in the production of tobacco products (e.g. bidis in India and Bangladesh). In all major tobacco growing countries, such as Brazil, Indonesia or Zambia, child labour in tobacco cultivation is widespread.

What can be done?

In order to comprehensively counteract child labour in tobacco production, various levels must be involved. The goals are, on the one hand, to reduce the overall consumption of tobacco, on the other hand, to improve working conditions and, furthermore, to provide children with a sustainable and long-term perspective for their lives. The following steps are necessary:

  • More financial support for tobacco control measures and programs
  • Legal obligation to comply with human rights in the supply chain
  • Support to switch from tobacco to other livelihoods

The Strategy for a Tobacco-Free Germany 2040 includes in one of its ten specific tobacco control measures that Germany should support tobacco control initiatives and alternatives to tobacco cultivation as part of its international development cooperation. The strategy paper was published by the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), German Cancer Aid (Deutsche Krebshilfe) and the Non-Smoking Action Alliance (Aktionsbündnis Nichtrauchen) and is supported by us and more than 50 health and civil society organizations.

The German government should participate in the FCTC-2030 project and, in this context, provide financial support to low- and middle-income countries in the process of implementing the FCTC. It is also essential to promote tobacco control more strongly in the context of bilateral cooperation.

Enforce human rights in the supply chain

Germany can also counter human and children’s rights violations in tobacco cultivation by holding companies accountable for respecting human rights in their supply chains. Ensuring that human rights and children’s rights are respected on tobacco plantations requires an effective legal framework and enforceable rights.

The Supply Chain Act was passed in the German Parliament today. In the coming legislative period, it should be further improved so that it covers all tobacco companies and risks must also be analyzed at the very beginning of the supply chain – in cultivation.

Only a strong supply chain act can contribute to curbing child labour in tobacco production.

Support families in phasing out tobacco cultivation

Alternative livelihoods to tobacco farming need to be strengthened worldwide. Tobacco growing families need support in phasing out tobacco cultivation and growing alternative crops. To achieve this, projects and programs to promote alternatives must be funded and given greater support in bilateral cooperation.

Act decisively

Unfairtobacco is part of the more than 50 health and civil society organizations supporting the Strategy for a Tobacco-Free Germany 2040, calling on policymakers to take decisive action against tobacco use and nicotine addiction – for a tobacco-free Germany.

World Day Against Child Labour & Tobacco Control


The United Nations have declared 2021 the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour. The main goal for the year is to urge governments to do whatever is necessary to achieve SDG 8.7: the elimination of the worst forms of child labour and by 2025 the elimination of all forms of child labour.

Article 26 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) provides for the allocation of financial resources to achieve the Convention’s objectives, including the realization of alternative livelihoods to tobacco cultivation, in order to provide tobacco farmers with different income opportunities.

World Day Against Child Labour

"Germany can and should contribute to a tobacco-free world, and support other countries within the framework of international development cooperation - based on Article 26 of the FCTC." (Quote from the Strategy for a Tobacco-Free Germany 2040)


Children have a right to a tobacco free world

Childrens rights and tobacco control

Strategy paper of DKFZ (German Cancer Research Center), Deutsche Krebshilfe (German Cancer Aid) and Aktionsbündnis Nichtrauchen (Non-Smoking Action Alliance)
Strategy for a Tobacco-Free Germany 2040