UN Global Compact bans Big Tobacco

15 September 2017:

On 13 September 2017 the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) announced its decision to permanently exclude the tobacco industry from participating in the UNGC. Companies whose business involves manufacturing or producing tobacco products will be delisted effective 15 October 2017, along with businesses associated with producing landmines or nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

According to the UNGC, organizations that meet the following exclusionary criteria – “Derive revenue from the production and/or manufacturing of tobacco” – cannot be recognized as participants of the UNGC.

The UNGC says this decision follows a comprehensive integrity review as part of its new 2030 strategy and vision, to enhance its policies and procedures to more closely be aligned with the broader UN system. Tobacco is the only consumer product to be excluded.

The UNGC is a voluntary initiative of the United Nations formed and launched by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in 1999, to encourage businesses to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies. The UNGC has a set of principles focused on human rights, labour rights, environmental protection, and anti-corruption. 

“As the UN Global Compact implements its new 2020 strategy, enhancing the integrity of the initiative is critical to maintaining its trusted role in defining corporate sustainability leadership in support of the Sustainable Development Goals,” the UNGC said.

Clearly, the UNGC decision confirms that the tobacco industry is a harmful industry which cannot fulfil the requirements of its ethical principles. A business that contributes greatly to diseases, deaths and other social, economic, and environmental harms cannot be considered socially responsible or supportive of the SDGs.

In the past, BAT and PMI have boosted their corporate image by participating in the UNGC and claimed to respect human rights, labour and the environment.

While the UNGC handed out this important rebuke to the tobacco industry in New York, in another part of the city, the tobacco industry gave itself awards – the Golden Leaf Awards. JTI Leaf Malawi received “Most impressive public service initiative” award – goes to demonstrate just how recalcitrant this industry is.

Big Tobacco’s front group, Elimination of Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT) continues to be a member of the Child Labour Platform (CLP) of the UN Global Compact Human Rights and Labour Working Group since April 2015.

The irreconcilable conflict between sustainable human development and the tobacco business that undermines sustainable development has been the basis for rejecting tobacco industry funding and partnerships by the World Health Organization (WHO), World Bank, UN Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

In June 2017, the UN ECOSOC adopted a resolution (E/2017/L.21) encouraging UN agencies to develop policies that would place a firewall between the UN and the tobacco industry.

SEATCA’s latest report “Hijacking ‘Sustainability’ from the SDGs: Review of Tobacco-related CSR Activities in the ASEAN Region” also finds that as ASEAN governments become more aware of the deadly effects of tobacco and step up regulation of the industry, tobacco companies are resorting to more below-the-line tactics to promote their corporate name and products to reach consumers, such as exploiting corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities as a key strategy to enhance their image.

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