WCTOH to ILO: cut ties with the tobacco industry

12 March 2018:

The 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health concluded on 9 March 2018 with a 11-point conference declarationincluding one calling upon the International Labour Organization to “align itself with the decision of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and end its collaboration with the tobacco industry immediately.” The ILO has been delaying the decision to cut ties with the tobacco industry for the past one year.

As the WCTOH concluded in Cape Town, the governing body of the ILO began its meeting in Geneva (8 – 22 March) and the agenda on reviewing its policy on tobacco is slated for debate on 14 March. It is now crunch time for the ILO to finally decide.

More than 2000 delegates from about 100 countries gathered in Cape Town to discuss how to strengthen tobacco control measures. Photo source Panellists of Session on ‘Women, Development and Tobacco Control. Dr Flavia Senkubuge, President of WCTOH on the left. Photo source 

On 8 March, which coincided with International Women’s Day, Dr Flavia Senkubuge – the first African woman to be President of a WCTOH, chaired a session on ‘Women, Development and Tobacco Control’ which illustrated how the tobacco industry has been promoting cigarettes to young women for decades all around the world while entrapping women in exploitative and harmful environment of cheap labour. The women leaders called upon the global community to ensure gender sensitivity is applied to tobacco control efforts, including equity in tobacco control leadership.

During the WCTOH, researchers and experts presented their findings on how tobacco farmers in KenyaNigeriaMalawi and Zambia face numerous problems such as unpaid labour, low prices for their leaves and harms associated with tobacco growing. Tobacco farm workers remain ensnared in a vicious cycle of poverty, illness and labour exploitation. Meanwhile, the tobacco companies have been painting a misleading picture of how tobacco has helped farmers, when the harsh reality on the ground shows a different picture.

To detract policy makers from the truth, the tobacco industry through its front group, the ECLT (Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing) Foundation, has been boosting its CSR programmes with tobacco growing communities in a handful of countries. These programmes do little to solve the deeply entrenched problems farmers face, which are linked to the industry itself.

The ILO remains the only UN agency that continues to collaborate with the tobacco industry. Over the past several years, the ILO has received about $15 million from Japan Tobacco International (JTI) and the ECLT.

In the run-up to the ILO governing body meeting, the ECLT has been spewing data and heart-warming photos of children and communities it has helped on its website, to garner support for its continued collaboration with the ILO under the public-private partnership program. However the Convention Secretariat to the WHO FCTC has issued a Note Verbale containing 16 Q & A items which provide clarification on the problem associated with accepting money and support from the tobacco industry and the obligations under the FCTC.

The governing body will debate ILO’s policy paper (GB.332/POL/5) which makes a case to end ties with the tobacco industry when current contract ends later this year and to implement an integrated strategy to address labour issues facing the tobacco sector.

According to the Framework Convention Alliance, to promote decent work, successfully guard against interference with labour standards, policies and programmes, the ILO must keep the tobacco industry at bay. Ending child labour in tobacco growing can be achieved without taking money from the tobacco industry.

For more information see here and here.