GLOBAL - US migrant workers' representatives are set to target shareholders in British American Tobacco (BAT) at the company's annual general meeting tomorrow.
FLOC, a trade union that represents agricultural workers in the US, intends to draw attention to what it claims are poor wages and working conditions among tobacco farm workers in North Carolina.
Their labour is used to supply Reynolds, a US tobacco firm 42% held by BAT.
The protesters will demand the company monitor suppliers and exclude those that fail to live up to the group's professed commitment to "high ethical, environmental and workplace standards".
They will also demand that BAT take responsibility, as a major shareholder, for Reynolds' management.
Among its other demands is that the tobacco company should make public its list of suppliers for independent verification, and that BAT chief operating officer John Daly - wrongly identified as chief executive - should accept FLOC's invitation to tour suppliers in the US.
BAT declined to confirm yesterday that Daly would accept FLOC's invitation.
A spokeswoman for the company said: "We are slightly puzzled that Reynolds, which buys only 16% of the tobacco in this region, appears to be the only company being targeted."
She added that an industry forum made up of manufacturers, state representatives, tobacco-growing bodies and growers' representatives should address welfare concerns.
"Given British American Tobacco's long history of working constructively with organised labour, the best approach to contentious issues such as this is to engage through dialogue.
"That is why we have asked for the help of the TUC to arrange a meeting with FLOC and the relevant US trade unionists so we can understand their concerns first hand, with the hope that this could lead to an industry-wide forum to address any issues constructively."
A board subcommittee made up of independent directors monitors the group's compliance with corporate social responsibility standards, including human rights and issues surrounding tobacco growing.
Only two of the five members attended all the committee meetings they were eligible to attend last year.
Head of investor relations Ralph Edmondson said yesterday the protest was unlikely to have any impact on shareholders, including Hermes and other pension schemes, which tend to vote by proxy and rarely attend AGMs.
"The protesters will make their point, and the chairman will respond to it," he said. "But institutional investors rarely turn up to the AGM. They will already have cast their votes."
The protest, backed by the UK Trades Union Congress, coincides with the publication of a FLOC report on the maltreatment and exploitation of migrant workers.