My team manages the buying, quality requirements and social compliance programs to promote the purchase of quality offshore tobaccos at the best possible value to meet the current and future requirements of our tobacco operating companies. We expect our suppliers to protect human rights in our supply chains, and our Leaf Procurement team actively monitors labor allegations across the globe to observe we are conducting business responsibly.
Malawi is the world’s largest burley tobacco producer and we buy a portion of our tobacco from suppliers who source from there. We've worked closely with those suppliers over the years to advocate and educate on responsible practices. This includes requiring those suppliers have direct contracts, educating farmers and working towards eliminating child and forced labor.
In November 2019, Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") applied a Withhold Release Order (WRO) on Malawi tobacco and/or any products that contained Malawi tobacco. A WRO is issued to prohibit the importation of goods determined to be mined, produced or manufactured, in whole or in part, by the use of forced labor, including prison labor, forced labor or indentured child labor. CBP issued the order based on information collected by the agency reasonably indicating the tobacco from Malawi is produced using forced labor and forced child labor.
While the WRO required detention of tobacco from Malawi at all U.S. ports of entry, the WRO was not a ban. Rather, importers had to provide proof that their tobacco and tobacco-containing products did not include tobacco from Malawi that was produced with labor prohibited under U.S. law.
In response to the WRO, our Malawi tobacco suppliers were quickly compiling the necessary documents to demonstrate the validity of their compliance programs to CBP. Because of their efforts and focus on responsibility through their supply chains, the WRO was lifted for our two largest international leaf suppliers in the summer of 2020.* Thus, our team was able to get the tobaccos imported and ready for use in a truncated time period; and reduce the magnitude of our contingency plans. It was an outstanding achievement and a reminder of the constant evolving nature of global business and the importance of continuous monitoring and collaboration throughout our supply chains. I'm proud of how our suppliers and our team stepped up during this time.
*As of 6/1/21 all our Malawi suppliers have had the WRO lifted.