Just say ‘No’, ILO

30 October 2018:

It is crunch time at the ILO governing body meeting – on Wednesday, 31 October they will decide whether to end receiving funds from the tobacco industry (TI). This decision has been previously postponed three times already – March 2017, November 2017 and March 2018. The ILO remains the last UN agency to continue collaborating with the tobacco industry and receiving funds through the public-private partnership program. The time has come for the ILO to say, ‘No’.

Only a handful of tobacco growing countries actually participate in these TI funded programs to address child labour including, Brazil, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia. Japan Tobacco International (JTI) gave ILO about US$10 million over these past seven years towards the program. On its website it claims to be working “hand-in-hand with our contracted farmers to help them get the best quality and yield from their crop, enabling them to get higher and more stable revenues.”

In Japan, JT sets a high price for purchasing leaves from Japanese tobacco growers. For 2019, JT has recommended a standard price of ¥1,912.32 per kg (US$16.97) for all leaf types. However, it is a completely different story in the developing countries where JTI conducts its business.

In the Philippines, for the 2018-2019 period, the floor price of Grade AA leaf is P82 ($1.64) per kilo. Last year in Tanzania, leaf buyers offered to pay $1.35 per kg of leaves, while the government believed it was worth $1.75 per kg. In Zambia for the past three years, according to the Tobacco Association of Zambia, tobacco prices had been declining, with flue-cured Virginia and Burley averaging US$2.50 per kg and US$1.90 per kg respectively this year. No wonder tobacco growers have remained poor and their families contribute unpaid labour in the cultivation.

Zimbabwe, a vociferous supporter of TI collaboration to address child labour, said to the Human Rights Watch, there were “no cases of child labour in the tobacco sector which the government is aware of.” Zimbabwe does not appear to be short of funds to address tobacco related issues. The government collected a total of US$23m through a levy imposed on farmers since 2015 for afforestation programs which has not been spent. The farmers want this levy scrapped.

More than 100 civil society organisations in a letter to the ILO governing body have called upon them to reject funding from the tobacco industry including corporations profiting from tobacco and ancillary groups that receive tobacco industry funds, in accordance with the UN model policy. The model policy is a guide for agencies of the United Nations system its related bodies and programs on preventing tobacco industry interference.

At the recent 8th Session of the COP in Geneva (1-6 October 2018), governments adopted important decisions on Article 5.3 that applies to the UN agencies including the ILO:

Encourages Parties: (d) to further enhance policy coherence within governments and require that all government sectors relevant to the implementation of the Convention, not only the health sector, comply with the requirements of Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC, and reflect the same in positions put forward in different governing bodies of the United Nations system;

Civil society recommends the ILO: 

  • no longer accept any funding from tobacco industry including corporations profiting from tobacco and ancillary groups that receive tobacco industry funds, in accordance with the UN model policy,
  • start implementing the integrated strategy using Regular Budget Supplementary Account funds in the short term, and
  • work closely with relevant UN agencies to assist tobacco farmers and farm workers with alternative livelihood strategies as recommended in the WHO FCTC Article 17.

Surely after intense debates over the past three GBs, the ILO can and must decide that it should align itself with the rest of the UN agencies and adopt the model policy on Article 53 and no longer accepts financial contributions from the tobacco industry.