Who wins in Malawi child labour, USA import suspension or UK court case?

Hypocrite! First, remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:5

United States of America (US) news media CNN on November 1 2019 reported that the US suspended tobacco imports from Malawi due to child labour concerns. The report said: “The United States on Friday suspended imports of all tobacco and tobacco products from Malawi for alleged forced labour practices–including child labour.”


It further said that the “Customs and Border Protection, which holds the authority to detain imports, has recently ramped up its efforts to hold companies and suppliers accountable for forced labour practices.”
In a related incident, the local media outlet Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) also cited on Friday the United Kingdom’s The Guardian newspaper that a group of “human rights lawyers in the UK (have taken to court) British American Tobacco (BAT) for using child labour in Malawi.”


Robert Mseteka, a member of the Malawi diaspora in the US, wondered whether the children being served in the case for being “engaged in forced labour in Malawi will receive any of the money if lawyers win this case.”
The social media instantly overflowed with commentary on the subject. The commentators included accountants, lawyers, academicians and health officials such as Mseteka.


As I added my pennyworth on the matter, I was reminded of a 2008 Madonna concert at the UN. One of her photographers, who had visited Malawi, requested assistance from the Malawi Mission to the United Nations, for her to get Malawi Government’s approval to publish a book on escalating child poverty in Malawi. She had sent a draft of the book and said she would want to produce on the margins of Madonna’s gig.


I was the mission’s expert on social development and human rights and Ambassador Steve Matenje assigned me to investigate the matter, by among others asking the photographer some questions.


Together, we explored these questions. The letter signed by Ambassador Matenje raised issues such as: Did the photographer obtain permission to do media work in Malawi? Did she get permission from the parents of the children? How much if any, will the children get from the proceeds of the book?


As a mission representing Malawi, we were concerned about Western media’s use of children’s images in developing countries, raise money that often never reach the children in those images, and about the standards media use in the developing countries being appallingly below those followed in the West.


For example, pictures of US school children cannot be taken without the explicit, written consent of their parents. Additionally, if the photographer gets paid for the picture, then it should be shared with the child.
The mission sought approval from the government and it was denied.
Mseteka, said Malawians must track its progression of the UK court case so that the beneficiaries are the children in these tobacco farms, and not just the do-gooder UK organizations.


Another commentator stated that Western countries do not understand the reasons behind Malawi children working in the farms—whether on tobacco farms or any other business enterprise.


The truth is, children also work in US companies. The defence is that US children work out of choice and not a necessity. This is another paradox: a Malawi child works to save his/her family, he or she is said to be in forced child labor; a US child works, it is because he or she chooses, possibly to prepare for later life. Such a choice is an intelligent, foresighted, and commendable choice.
The hypocrisy must stop!

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