Debt bondage in Kazakhstan’s tobacco industry

14 July 2010

A new report by Human Rights Watch finds migrant tobacco workers in Kazakhstan trapped in forced labour and debt bondage.

The seasonal workers, typically from Kyrgyzstan and other former Soviet republics, are employed by farm owners who supply tobacco to the Kazakhstan subsidiary of Philip Morris International, one of the world’s largest tobacco companies.

The report documents how some employers confiscated the workers’ passports, failed to provide written contracts, did not pay regular wages, cheated workers of earnings and required them to work excessively long hours.

Payment is often received only at the end of the season meaning that many workers were forced to depend on employers for food and other necessities, with the employers deducting the costs at the end of the season. In some cases this resulted in debt bondage with families required to work additional seasons to pay off the debts accrued.