Using participatory evaluation to address the root causes of an issue

This case study is part of a collection developed under the Quality of Relationships stream of Shift’s Valuing Respect Project. It explores how Philip Morris International (PMI), a global tobacco company, used participatory evaluation tools to gather information in order to address the “root causes of the most prevalent and persistent issues that keep surfacing” – specifically child labor in their agricultural supply chain. 

Over the years, PMI has been gathering data through regular assessments and farm visits, which help the company to monitor the implementation of its labor standards, including zero child labor. However, it is its latest strategy, Step Change, that has provided complementary information about local awareness challenges, customs and societal attitudes that normalized children working on tobacco-growing farms. In driving this change, PMI has set itself an ambitious target to eliminate child labor from its leaf supply chain by 2025. Addressing incidences of child labor is important due to the hazardous nature of the agricultural work, which can pose increased health and safety risk to children. This case study describes how a combination of participatory methods allowed local and affected people to express in their own terms any local realities that run counter to the company’s efforts to reduce the use of child labor on farms.  

Specifically, the evaluation uncovered that:

  • workers are more accepting of children working on farms than farmers; 
  • child labor is seen as part of a widespread societal norm of communal work; and 
  • strong cultural beliefs ingrained in the society including of some local leaders, educators and community representatives weakening the company’s messaging about child labor. 

We asked ourselves: ‘Why aren’t we seeing positive change?’ That is when we decided to take a deep dive, speak to the farmers and workers directly to uncover root causes which were preventing us from achieving desired outcomes.” 

About the Valuing Respect Project