Mavuto K. Banda
PhD student, Living with the Consequences of Slavery Cluster
Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull
Malawi is an agriculture-based economy where tea and tobacco contribute about 70% of total annual export earnings, 60% of which comes from tobacco alone. As one of the countries that ratified the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention 138 on Minimum Age of Employment, and Convention 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour, the Malawi Government has put in place policies and legal instruments to operationalise its international obligations and committed itself to combat child labour. According to the Employment Act (2000), the minimum age for entry into employment in Malawi is 14; however, work in tea and tobacco production is considered hazardous to children, and so the minimum age of employment is pegged at 18.
Agriculture is the single largest employer, sustaining livelihoods mainly through subsistence farming and part-time work locally known as ganyu in addition to jobs provided by commercial estates such as tea and tobacco. Over 84% of Malawians live in rural areas and agriculture employs 85% of working males and 94% of females.
Led by multinationals and supported by the government and its local and international stakeholders (NGOs and UN agencies), Malawi has implemented interventions to keep children from tea and tobacco work since the early 2000s. Children are banned from working in commercial tea and tobacco estates, as work in these sectors is considered hazardous and detrimental to children’s growth and development by ILO standards. These bans were and are still predominantly upheld by players in tea and tobacco as a direct response to accountability pressures from consumers in Europe and North America, where most of the tea and tobacco exports from Malawi are destined. Further pressure comes from international organisations and UN agencies such as the ILO and UNICEF.
However, in recent years, reports of children’s continued participation, especially in tobacco production, shocked the international community and threatened the country’s export earnings and by extension, its economy. In 2019, the US government banned the importation of tobacco from Malawi, which was thought to have been produced using exploitative children’s work.
For commercial tea and tobacco estates, and indeed for the country, banning children’s work from tea and tobacco – probably the most outbound globally connected value chains in the Malawian economy – lowers reputational risks, which appear to be responding to consumer demands for accountability. However, little is known about the impact these bans are having on the lived experiences of children who no longer have the opportunity to work in commercial tea and tobacco estates.
This is what my study, therefore, aims to examine – the impact on under-18-year-olds of the ban from working in tea and tobacco plantations. I will be asking the following set of guiding questions:
1) To what extent have the universal minimum age policy interventions contributed to the elimination of child labour in tea and tobacco-growing communities?
2) How have the universalised minimum age policies and related interventions influenced the lives of children, their families and their communities?
3) How could interventions relating to child labour elimination in tea and tobacco-growing communities protect and empower children, families and communities?
I have decided to use the following investgative techniques to collect data: I will conduct key informant interviews targeting service providers and community leaders; set up focus group discussions; and create survey questionnaires targeting household members. The study will be conducted in the Southern Region districts of Thyolo and Mulanje (for tea production) and Zomba (for tobacco production).
I am grateful to the Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST)’s Center for Innovation and Industrial Research (CIIR) in Thyolo District for offering to host me during the period of fieldwork. Their various capacity-building initiatives will enrich my research experience and further my career development. In addition, the stay at MUST will ensure that I have an office and access to the internet when I am not in the field for reporting and reading. In turn, I will dedicate four hours per week to any work assigned to me by the CIIR.
I now have the ethics approval from the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FoSE) at the University of Hull and am in the process of applying for ethics approval with MUST’s research committee. Once I get the MUST research ethics approval, I can begin my fieldwork with stakeholder mapping and consultations before field data collection proper begins. With over 60% of research costs secured, I am in the process of applying for the shortfall from the National Commission of Science and Technology (NCST)’s Small Grant Scheme, designed to support postgraduate students in research.
All in all, I am very excited to enter the field data collection phase of my PhD studies. With the support I am getting both at the University of Hull and MUST, I hope this will be successful fieldwork.
Caption: Mavuto K. Banda in Mulanje tea fields, Southern Malawi (Source: Mavuto K. Banda, 2016)