British American Tobacco (BAT) and Imperial Brands will ask the high court in London on Wednesday to throw out a case against them alleging the exploitation of Malawian farmers and their children, reports The Guardian.
Denying the allegations, the companies are asking that the case be dismissed on the grounds that lawyers for the farming families cannot prove the tobacco they grew ended up in their cigarettes and other products.
“BAT believes that there is no legal or factual basis to bring these claims, therefore BAT has made an application for the claims to be struck out or stayed,” a BAT spokesperson told The Guardian.
The case was brought after investigations by The Guardian suggested the companies employed child labor and subjected farmers to poor working conditions.
Leigh Day lawyers argue that the farmers’ conditions of work breach the definition of forced labor, unlawful compulsory labor and exploitation under Malawian law.
They also say that they breach the U.K. Modern Slavery Act, article 14 of the European convention on human rights and the International Labor Organization definition of forced labor.
“The heart of the claim is that two of the largest tobacco companies in the world cynically exploited impoverished tobacco farmers from Malawi and their children,” said Martyn Day, senior partner at Leigh Day.
“Fortunately, the two defendant companies are based here in Britain, giving our courts jurisdiction to adjudicate these claims.” He said he was optimistic the judge would allow the claims to progress toward a full trial.
Several thousand of Malawi’s poorest tobacco tenant farmers have joined the claim. They sell their crop to a leaf-buying company in Malawi, which they say supplies BAT and Imperial.