University of Bath releases new film investigating the colonial past of Imperial Brands and modern day exploitation of Malawian tobacco farmers


Tobacco Slave is a new film from the University of Bath’s Dr Roy Maconachie and Simon Wharf, in collaboration with the Tobacco Control Research Group (TCRG). The film begins in Bristol, home to tobacco giant Imperial Brands and a city with significant historical links to the transatlantic slave trade. It then moves to Malawi, sharing the stories of farmers who feel trapped in contracts with tobacco suppliers that leave them in debt and making little or no profits – to the extent that one farmer describes herself as “a tobacco slave”. Tobacco Slave highlights how the business model of companies like Imperial Brands continues a long history of exploiting people in low and middle-income countries, whilst concentrating profits in wealthy nations.

Watch the film here

The documentary, published by Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products (STOP) on the 26th of October, explores how the contemporary tobacco industry grew out of colonial-era companies linked to exploitative working practices and the transatlantic slave trade. Today, the tobacco supply chain continues to rely on the exploitation of tobacco farmers in countries like Malawi, where the four largest tobacco corporations purchase tobacco leaves.

As a result of exploitative working practices in LMIC’s, farmers suffer Green Tobacco Sickness and are at increased risk of miscarriages and infectious disease, according to the WHO. The financial pressures that exploitative contracts place on farmers also means that child labour is rampant in the industry.

The Bristol Cable has published an article with more detail on Bristol and its role in the story.

The University of Bath will be hosting a screening of Tobacco Slave on 2nd November in Bristol, including a Q&A with experts who feature in the film. Find tickets here.


To find out more tobacco farmer exploitation visit the Tobacco Farming page.

To find out more about how the tobacco industry perpetuates systemic inequities, from worker exploitation to targeting consumers based on race and gender, visit Expose Tobacco.

For a detailed look at the issue of racism in the tobacco industry see the Racism and the Tobacco Industry Long Read.

To explore the connections between the big four tobacco companies and tobacco leaf suppliers, like Limbe Leaf, which buy crops from farmers, visit the Tobacco Tactics Supply Chains Database.

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