With the 337th Session of the Governing Board of the International Labour Organisation underway in Geneva, tobacco control groups have renewed calls for the UN agency to sever ties with the tobacco industry.
In an open letter addressed to the Director-General of the ILO and the Government Members, the groups called for the rejection of tobacco industry funding and strict regulation of their activities.
“These are critical steps to ensure that labourers are fully protected and child labour is completely eliminated,” the groups said.
The letter was signed by Sandra Mullin, Chair, Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products; Laurent Huber, Executive Director, Action on Smoking and Health; Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids; and Michel Legendre, Associate Campaign Director, Corporate Accountability.
Others are Francis Thompson, Executive Director, Framework Convention Alliance; Joanna Cohen, Director, Institute for Global Tobacco Control, John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Kate Dain, Chief Executive Office, NCD Alliance; and Florence Berteletti, Director for Advocacy, World Heart Federation.
The groups, representing more than 400 organisations, noted that child labour comes with adverse health impacts and deprivation of educational opportunities.
“The persistent, poor working environment and unfair bargaining conditions of tobacco workers, that leads to child labour; can be traced back to the multinational tobacco companies’ actions or omissions.
“The debt cycle perpetrated through the tobacco industry’s contracts prevent farmers from seeking more lucrative alternatives that do not harm growers’ health through nicotine toxicity.”
Terminating ties with tobacco
Over the years, big tobacco companies such as the British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International, and Philip Morris International have targeted the ILO, donating $15 million to the ILO between 2008 and 2018, as part of a global effort to launder their image.
At the 332nd session of the ILO’s governing board in Geneva, in March 2018, tobacco control advocates mounted pressure on the UN agency to sever ties with the tobacco industry, and halt further receipts of funds from the tobacco industries.
Again, at the governing board’s 334th session in November 2018, more than 100 tobacco control groups continued the pressure, particularly pushing for the ILO to sever its partnership with Japan Tobacco International.
In July this year, ahead of the ILO’s technical meeting in Kampala, Uganda, the groups renewed their push for the agency to totally sever ties with tobacco companies.
”Any partnership with the tobacco industry directly contradicts the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) which includes strengthening the implementation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a treaty that requires governments to protect public health from the commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry,” the groups stated in their latest letter to the ILO governing board.
”Such partnerships also contradict the spirit of various international instruments on human rights and workers’ rights.”
Tobacco companies are said to remain the single greatest obstacle to curbing the global tobacco epidemic that kills more than seven million people yearly, according to the WHO.
Tobacco industry documents reveal that access to governments and international organisations such as the ILO is part of Big Tobacco’s broader strategy to establish credibility and gain access to policy-makers for the purposes of undermining tobacco control measures.
Despite the sustained pressure on the ILO to sever ties with the tobacco industry, several groups have continued to back the agency to continue receiving funds from Big Tobacco.
In June last year, the ILO’s contract with the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT), an organisation funded by Japan Tobacco International, expired.
At this year’s technical meeting in Kampala, a representative from Malawi said it was ”unfortunate” that the contract had not been replaced by alternative funding from other sources.
However, the tobacco control groups said they have agreed with a proposal that sustainable funding to support decent work in the labour sector must come from development financing and domestic sources.
”Crucial funding sources could include tobacco taxes and must not come as donations from the tobacco industry’s palms. The tobacco companies must comply with regulations on labour standards and should be required to pay for the harms caused by its products and unethical behaviour.”
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