ILO defers decision to cut ties with Big Tobacco next year

Bangkok, 10 November 2017: The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) is disappointed that the International Labour Organization (ILO) has postponed its decision on whether to cut its ties with the tobacco industry. The ILO Governing Body’s deliberations have remained at a deadlock this past week (1 to 9 November). This is a second postponement by the Governing Body and yet another delay in ending an unhealthy relationship.

The ILO is the only remaining UN agency that continues to maintain ties with the tobacco industry. Over the past several years, the ILO has received about USD15 million from Japan Tobacco International (JTI) and Eliminating Child Labor in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT) an NGO also funded by the transnational tobacco industry.

“The tobacco industry is clutching at the last straw of credibility. The tobacco industry needs this sponsorship for endorsement more than the ILO. It is time for the ILO to let it go,” said Dr. Mary Assunta, Senior Policy Advisor of SEATCA.

The tobacco companies’ sponsorship money goes to a few poor countries in Africa (Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi) for programme on child labour, while the companies continue to buy tobacco leaves at cheap prices that use child labour. In Indonesia and the Philippines, child labour persists in tobacco growing.

“The tobacco industry is giving a paltry sum to the ILO compared to the huge profits the transnational companies reap by paying low prices to tobacco growers in poor countries. This industry continues to exploit poor countries especially in Africa and Asia,” added Assunta.

Tobacco farm workers are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, illness and labour exploitation despite the corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives of tobacco companies. These CSR activities are not real solutions and serve to divert public attention from a more meaningful and long-term ways to address the problem.

Recent international decisions expose the tobacco industry for what it really is – a harmful industry responsible for 7 million deaths worldwide every year. Since 15 October 2017, the UN Global Compact has delisted companies whose business involves manufacturing or producing tobacco products.

Given all we know about the transnational corporations who foster the tobacco epidemic and the conditions that keep farm workers in poverty, the ILO must heed the call of the nearly 200 non-governmental organizations from the labour, health and development sectors who sent a letter asking for an end to partnerships with the tobacco industry. 

Most member states of the ILO are also Parties (183) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) that calls on governments to ban tobacco-related CSR activities. Indeed, many governments have banned such CSR activities and the ILO’s tobacco sponsored programmes run contrary to these efforts.


Wendell C Balderas, Media and Communications Manager – SEATCA
Email: | Mobile: +63 999 881 2117 ##

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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.


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