The top three companies, Altria, British American Tobacco, and Japan Tobacco, have built new manufacturing facilities and encouraged the rapid expansion of tobacco agriculture in many countries, notably Brazil, Mexico, India, China, and Malaysia. Two-thirds of the world’ s tobacco is grown in just four countries: China, India, Brazil, and the US. According to Golden Leaf, Barren harvest, a 2001 report by the Washington, D.C. , tobacco production in developing countries grew by 128% between 1975 and 1998. Traditionally, independent growers have sold their tobacco at annual auctions where tobacco companies compete to buy from many different growers. Under the auction system, tobacco companies do not always buy directly from farmers but work through intermediary leaf brokers. Recently tobacco companies have begun to shift to a more vertically integrated system.
Atria subsidiary Philip Morris USA is encouraging farmers to sign contracts called “ partnering agreement. ” The contracts eliminate the leaf brokers and allow the growers to bring their crop to the company at their convenience rather than at a preset time as under the auction system. The contract system is predicted by many to further reduce the economic stature and autonomy of growers. As growers become more dependent on single tobacco companies, they are under more pressure to follow the companies’ specifications as to pesticide use and other cultivation protocols. And even under the auction system, in developing countries, there is very close collaboration between the tobacco companies and the leaf brokers. Both provide loans, fertilizers, seeds, pesticides, and other materials to growers.
Although there are international agreements and conventions affecting the tobacco industry, none directly address tobacco workers’ environmental health issues. In 1999 the World Health Organization (WHO) began work on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). For the 192 member countries of the WHO, the FCTC would encourage and supplement national tobacco control policies in the areas of advertising and sponsorship, package warnings and labeling, taxes, and smuggling.
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