ILO decision on tobacco moves in the right direction

Bangkok, 9 November 2018: The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) welcomes the decision of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on the tobacco sector, which seeks to address decent work among tobacco farmers without funding from tobacco companies.

The decision sets out a four-pronged approach for a new integrated strategy to address decent work deficits in the tobacco sector that no longer relies on funding from tobacco companies, prioritizes decent work, strengthened social dialogue, and provides assistance to address decent work deficits like child labor. 

“The ILO decision sends a strong message that the tobacco industry can no longer exploit this UN agency to promote its discredited charity. The tobacco industry’s handouts on child labour have not solved the more fundamental problems that force children to the fields and trap farmers in poverty, such as low tobacco leaf prices and harmful working conditions,” said Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, Executive Director of SEATCA.

The new strategy will enable the ILO to go further in addressing the root causes of systemic poverty in the tobacco sector, free from the undue influence of tobacco companies and consistent with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Article 5.3 and the Model Policy for United Nations agencies on preventing tobacco industry interference.

The ILO Governing Body’s decision to organise a tripartite meeting as a matter of urgency, to further develop and implement the strategy, presents an opportunity to expand protections for workers within the tobacco sector.  

“Tobacco industry interference prevents intergovernmental organizations such as the ILO from effectively addressing problems in the tobacco supply chain. Rejecting funding from tobacco companies will allow the ILO to maintain its impartiality to address critical areas that trap workers in systemic poverty including unfair contracts, collusion by companies over leaf prices, and inflating costs for farm inputs,” added Dorotheo.

In the ASEAN region, Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines have a policy of not accepting funds from tobacco companies for corporate social responsibility activities, so the tobacco industry finds ways to course its funds through high profile developmental organizations implementing programs on labor rights, education, and environment, among others. Tobacco industry-funded CSR programs to eliminate child labor in ASEAN countries have not solved the problem.

Tobacco growing is inherently hazardous for agricultural workers especially children. All ASEAN Members States have ratified ILO’s convention on the worst forms of child labour (Convention 182) that obligates them to ensure children are protected from hazardous work, which by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children. 


  • Countries must ban tobacco-related CSR activities;
  • Apply policy coherence across whole-of-government in implementing the WHO FCTC;
  • The UN system must adopt the Model Policy on preventing tobacco industry interference.


Wendell C Balderas, Media and Communications Manager – SEATCA

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SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental alliance promoting health and saving 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.