ILO & Big Tobacco – To be or not to be

28 October 2017:

The countdown has begun – the International Labour Organization (ILO) is a few days away from making a big decision about Big Tobacco. Come 1 November, the Governing Body of the ILO will decide whether it wants to continue receiving funds from Japan Tobacco International (JTI) and a Big Tobacco funded NGO, named Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT).

Publically available information on the issue from ILO is scant. However, there are signs the office of the ILO wants the Governing Body to continue its partnership with Big Tobacco. By deferring the decision from March to November, the ILO bought time to do some background work. But recent developments point to the direction the ILO must go.

What has happened between March and October this year?

  1. The Office of the ILO has produced a new document that appears to lead the GB towards a decision to continue its partnership with Big Tobacco – instead of a choice between “to continue” or “to end partnership” as in the previous document.

The new document has removed any information that will lead the GB to ask questions or lean towards cutting ties. For example:

  • Bizarre statements in the previous document have disappeared in the new document. One example of a missing sentence:  “This exodus has been a driving force of violent crimes in cities.”
  • Misleading statements have disappeared: For example the previous document in para 8 said “There were few ready substitutes for the crop neither for the families nor for the countries that rely on it.”
  • Incriminating statement that tobacco growing has not helped communities but child labour is used to commonly used has disappeared. For example para 9: “surveys indicate that in impoverished tobacco growing communities, child labour is rampant.”
  1. The ECLT website has had a makeover and spews figures on how many children it has helped withdraw from tobacco growing – miniscule compared to the magnitude of the problem that persist in so many developing countries where tobacco is grown. 
  2. In June 2017, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in its resolution (E/2017/L.21) encouraged UN agencies to develop policies that would place a firewall between the UN and the tobacco industry. However the ILO has taken great pains to explain in its new document why it is not under any legal obligation to adopt and implement this important resolution.
  3. Effective 15 October 2017, the UN Global Compact will delist companies whose business involves manufacturing or producing tobacco products. The ILO has chosen to remain silent on this recent UNGC announcement.

The Framework Convention Alliance (FCA), a global group has written to the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, urging him not to allow the tobacco industry to keep using UN agencies such as ILO to promote its corporate image and to insist on ending the cooperation with both the industry and its funded organisation (ECLT). The letter was signed by over 180 international non-governmental organisations from the health, development and labour sectors.

Big tobacco is buying CSR goodwill for “peanuts”: Tobacco industry sponsored CSR activities do not benefit the marginalized sectors of tobacco farmers, women, and children. The US$15.4 million from the tobacco industry (ECLT – US$5.3million, JTI – US$10.1million) given to the ILO is a relatively small sum, which does not solve the problem. These CSR activities are not real solutions and serve to divert public attention from meaningful steps to engage these sectors in genuine dialogue and affect national and international policies to address their issues.

It is clear what the ILO has to do. It will be strange indeed for the ILO to insist on moving in the opposite direction of the other UN agencies by partnering with an industry responsible for over 7 million deaths worldwide every year.

SEATCA statement: ILO must end its partnership with Big Tobacco

Tobacco Control Blog: ILO must shake off tobacco industry yoke