Tobacco-control advocates laud ILO’s severance of ties with Big Tobacco

The UN health agency warned that tobacco’s killer toxins also wreak havoc on the environment. [Photo: ITV.com]
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Tobacco-control advocates across the globe have lauded the International Labour Organisation’s decision to finally sever ties with tobacco industries.

At the 337th Governing Board Session of the ILO which held between October 24 and November 7, the agency endorsed an integrated strategy to address decent work deficits in the tobacco sector, which will be implemented free from tobacco industry money.

‘’This decision closes the tobacco industry’s last avenue of influence in the U.N. system and brings the ILO in line with the World Health Organization’s Global Tobacco Treaty,’’ said Michél Legendre, Associate Campaign Director at Corporate Accountability.

‘’We welcome the decision and look forward to the implementation of the strategy that will ensure the ILO continues the anti-child labour programme with tobacco money finally out for good.

‘’Any future projects that allow tobacco industry involvement are subject to interference, influence, and undermining from the industry which continues to employ these tactics as a way to forgo any accountability.’’

The ILO is the last UN agency to sever ties with the tobacco industry following a 2017 decision of the UN Global Compact (UNGC) to end relationships with tobacco companies due to an inherent conflict of interest between their products and human rights, the right to public health, international security and peace.

The ILO’s decision came after a sustained pressure from tobacco-control advocates urging it to firewall tobacco companies from its activities, including receiving funding from Big Tobacco to address decent work deficits in the sector.

‘Ulterior motive’

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.

The companies have used partnerships for decades to earn goodwill and escape culpability. The tobacco industry partnered with Interpol to combat illicit trade while at the same time being complicit in illicit trade.

‘’It would be naive to assume this deadly industry funded the ILO without an ulterior motive,’’ Mr Legendre said.

‘’The tobacco industry has long benefited from partnerships like this one in order to distract from its role in driving the global tobacco epidemic and the human rights issues in its supply chain.

‘’This industry has shown time and again that voluntary programs will not be enough to rein in its abuses. Governments must hold Big Tobacco accountable for its dangerous and deadly business practices including its treatment of workers.’’

Leonce Sessou, Executive Secretary at African Tobacco Control Alliance, said the ILO’s decision goes a long way to neutralise the tobacco industry’s attempts to clean its image.

‘’We hail this move which no doubt takes us closer to the global objective of isolating the tobacco industry,’’ Mr Sessou said.

‘’The ILO’s action demonstrates that the organisation is responsive to the needs of humanity, and that the Sustainable Development Goals are achievable without tobacco industry funding.’’

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.

Mr Legendre said in order for the ILO to protect and advance its work without tobacco industry interference, the devil will be in the details of the implementation of this strategy.

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‘’The ILO must continue to recognize the tobacco industry for what it is: a deadly industry that blocks, weakens, and delays any policy that affects its bottom line,’’ he said.

‘’Now, the ILO needs to enact safeguards that explicitly reject the industry’s funding and shut out Big Tobacco’s influence for good like those seen in Article 5.3 of the Global Tobacco Treaty.”

The Framework Convention Alliance, a leading tobacco control advocacy body comprising of nearly 500 organisations from across 100 countries, said it is ‘’encouraged’’ by the ILO’s decision.

‘’With the ILO moving forward to implement its integrated strategy to address decent work deficits in the tobacco sector, FCA remains steadfast in ensuring that the appropriate safeguards are in place, in line with the model policy for agencies of the UN system on preventing tobacco industry interference.’’

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