A large group of protesters gathered Thursday outside of tobacco giant Reynolds American's shareholders meeting. They also marched through downtown Winston-Salem to promote workers rights in agriculture and other industries.
"We really want the workers to have the ability to have freedom of association to organize their own institution and we want have daily monitoring on the ground, so they can flag problems and file complaints without fear of retaliation, " says Baldemar Velasquez, President of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO.
The rally in front of Reynolds headquarters has become an annual event for the organization. But this year, their focus is on a recent audit released by the company on the practices of farmers that sell tobacco to Reynolds. It found some safety violations, inadequate reporting of workplace accidents, and more.
Linda Suggs of Raleigh says she wants Reynolds to invest in better working conditions.
“Enough is enough. Take some of that profit and do right by the workers and that's what I'm asking. I don't think that's asking too much,” says Suggs.
The report also found a few instances of children under 13 working on tobacco farms.
David Howard, a spokesman for the company, says Reynolds is committed to safety and accountability and has been transparent about the audit process.
He adds farmers who violate a pledge by the company to ban the hiring of people so young will be held accountable.
“We have addressed that. We've reached out to those farms and have notified them of that and are working to ensure future occurrences do not happen.”
Howard says there were only two cases out of nearly 400 interviews where a non-family member under the age of 16 was working in the tobacco fields. A sign he says that the audit process is working.
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