ILO must cut ties with the tobacco industry

Bangkok, 16 October 2017: The International Labour Organization (ILO) must do the right thing and sever its ties with Big Tobacco. This is the call the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) is making to the ILO when its Governing Body meets on 1 November to decide on its future partnership with Big Tobacco. The ILO remains among the last of the UN agencies to cut its ties with Big Tobacco.

Global public health leaders from the Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) to global tobacco control organizations including SEATCA have long called for the ILO to shut its doors to Big Tobacco. This week, global public health and labour leaders around the globe also delivered to government representatives of the ILO Governing Body a letter signed by almost two hundred organizations and individuals to urge them to end the ILO’s public-private partnerships with the tobacco industry.

“It is unfortunate that the ILO chooses to damage its reputation by accepting money from the tobacco industry. The other UN agencies have already disengaged themselves from Big Tobacco,” said Dr. Mary Assunta, SEATCA’s Senior Policy Advisor.

In June 2017, the UN ECOSOC adopted a resolution encouraging UN agencies to develop policies that would place a firewall between the UN and the tobacco industry. Last month, the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) permanently banned tobacco industry participation.

“The ILO has the opportunity to catch up with the other UN agencies and stand on the right side of history to prioritize and protect workers’ welfare,” Dr. Assunta added.

Since 2015, the ILO has received more than US$15 million from tobacco corporations for joint programs to address child labour. The industry uses this collaboration to boost its public relations, in reality they do little to curb child labor in tobacco fields because they do not shift the tobacco industry-driven cycle of poverty for tobacco farmers that forces children into the fields.

“The ILO should not be swayed by the paltry handouts from the tobacco industry. It should be clear to the ILO that the many years of collaboration with the industry have not eliminated the child labour problem. The ILO Governing Body must choose to cut ties with the tobacco industry as recommended in the model policy of the UNIATF,” added Assunta.

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. The policy states that UNIATF should reject partnerships, joint programs, non-binding or non-enforceable agreements and any other voluntary relationships with the tobacco industry. The ILO’s coziness with the tobacco industry also violates a core tenet of the FCTC, which establishes a firewall between the tobacco industry and public health policymaking.

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 high-income countries. In the ASEAN Region, countries with the largest number of poor smokers such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar and Vietnam have been targeted specifically by transnational tobacco companies to increase cigarette sales.

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 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.