The ILO must end ties with the tobacco industry

Bangkok, 10 March 2017: The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) calls upon the International Labour Organization to end its ties with the tobacco industry.  

On 16 March 2017 the Governing Body of the International Labour Organization (ILO) will decide on its relationship with the tobacco industry. For many years the ILO has had a close working relationship with the global tobacco industry through its public-private partnership programme. Now the ILO’s future policy on collaboration with the tobacco industry is on the agenda of its 328th Session of the Governing Body.

The ILO is a member of the UN Interagency Task Force (UNIATF) on Prevention and Control of NCDs which adopted a draft model policy last year for preventing tobacco industry interference among UN agencies. This policy states: “UNIATF should reject partnerships, joint programs, non-binding or non-enforceable agreements and any other voluntary relationships with the tobacco industry.”

“The time has come for the ILO to end its ties with the tobacco industry. ILO’s reference document for its Governing Body is skewed with songs of praise for the work with the tobacco industry. This is not surprising because transnational tobacco companies have been financially supporting some of the work of the ILO particularly in addressing child labour in tobacco growing,” said Dr. Mary Assunta, Senior Policy Advisor of SEATCA.

“About 80 percent of the 1.2 billion smokers live in poor and middle-income countries. The global tobacco industry is focused on increasing its profits from these parts of the world since smoking is declining in the high-income countries,” added Dr. Assunta.

The ILO estimates there are about 60 million people involved in tobacco growing and leaf processing worldwide, however it offers no data on the number of children working in this industry. In fact the ILO says shifts in tobacco production to the developing world may have resulted in increased child labour.

The ILO has US$15 million from Japan Tobacco International and another tobacco industry funded NGO, the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation.

It appears the ILO has completely missed the point on how the tobacco industry actually benefits from child labour:

  • Tobacco industry pays very low prices to purchase tobacco leaves because the cost of labour excludes the cost of labour from all the children who work on tobacco farms.
  • Unlike all other industries which have zero-tolerance for child labour, the tobacco industry continues to profit from child labour without actually ending it. Other industries simply don’t purchase their raw materials tainted by child labour.
  • Not ending child labour enables the tobacco industry to continue conducting so called CSR activities and gain access to high profile bodies like the ILO and high-level government officials at the country level.

“It should be clear to the ILO the many years of collaboration with the industry has not eliminated child labour. The ILO should not allow their decision to be coloured by the paltry US$15million. The Governing Body must put itself above tainted funds and choose the policy to end ties with the tobacco industry as recommended in the model policy of the UNIATF,” said Dr. Assunta.

The UNIATF model policy recommends:

“39(b) to request the Director-General to discontinue PPP arrangements with tobacco companies and tobacco -related institutions after the current PPPs with the ECLT and the JTI have ended, to renounce receiving funding in the future from such companies and institutions, and continue to explore alternative sources of funding for child labour elimination activities in tobacco growing communities in full conformity with the purpose and objectives of the FCTC and the UNIATF model policy for agencies of the UN system on preventing tobacco industry interference.”

Under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), the 180 Parties are obligated to find alternate livelihoods for tobacco farming. The ILO should align their policies towards this goal and practice good governance by adopting a policy that rejects partnerships with the tobacco industry.

Contact:
Mary Assunta, Senior Policy Advisor, SEATCA

Email: mary.assunta@cancer.org.au | Mobile: +61400119985 ##

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About SEATCA

SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental alliance working to promote health and save lives by assisting ASEAN countries to accelerate and effectively implement the evidence-based tobacco control measures contained in the WHO FCTC. Acknowledged by governments, academic institutions, and civil society for its advancement of tobacco control movements in Southeast Asia, the WHO bestowed on SEATCA the World No Tobacco Day Award in 2004 and the WHO Director-General’s Special Recognition Award in 2014.