Tobacco and Allied Workers of Union of Malawi

2015 Recipient of the International Grassroots Organizing Award

ILRF is recognizing TOAWUM for its advocacy and organizing to end child labor and improve the lives of tenant farmers, farm workers and their families.

Raphael Sandramu grew up in a farming family and founded TOAWUM to combat the tobacco tenancy system prevalent in Malawi that locks tobacco farmers into general systems of poverty and debt bondage. Labor recruiters for Malawian tobacco estates entice thousands of families to plantations with promises of plentiful harvests, food allowances and guaranteed access to materials needed to grow tobacco. Most of these promises, however, are reneged upon, leaving farmworkers and their families locked to their landlord by deceptive contracts and debt. This system denies an estimated 300,000 tobacco tenant families of their basic rights to adequate food, clean water, proper housing and fair payment for their crop, and forces around 78,000 children into tobacco fields.
Most  recently, Sandramu traveled to Moscow in 2014 to bring farmer voice into important language about farmer livelihoods in a major international tobacco control treaty. TOAWUM is trying to use that language to help Malawi break its dependence on tobacco, which in 2010 accounted for 52 percent of the country’s export earnings—the highest economic reliance on tobacco growing in the world. TOAWUM has been a long-time ally of ILRF, and has worked as part of the Child Labor Action Fund (CLAF) project to push for key reforms that help tobacco farmers improve their working conditions.