On 1 November 2017, delegates of the Governing Body of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) will be asked to vote to extend their partnership with the tobacco industry.
This proposal comes despite recommendations from the UN Economic and Social Committee (ECOSOC), an interagency taskforce to turn down any kind of funding from an industry with a vested interest in watering down any health and safety or labour regulation endangering its business model. If passed, ILO will run rogue in contradicting the ECOSOC resolutions and continue to maintain ties with the tobacco industry.
Under a current agreement running until the end of 2018, ILO is to receive US$ 15 million through its partnership with Japan Tobacco International (JTI) and the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT). This practice stands in direct conflict with international standards, in particular Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation UN Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC).
“While eliminating child labour is, of course, an issue of utmost importance and goal that must be pursued, accepting money from an industry that continues to use its market power to create the very conditions that it claims to fight makes ILO complicit in rehabilitating the practices of the world’s most deadly industry’”, said Framework Convention Alliance (FCA) Executive Director Francis Thompson.
In addition, there is little evidence to suggest that industry-funded initiatives have created any positive change in this area. JTI and other tobacco companies continue to profit from paying low prices for tobacco produced through child labour. JTI is still boosting profits in many more countries that use child labour to produce tobacco. Reports have repeatedly claimed that ECLT’s work aims to keep farmers dependent on aid from the tobacco industry to avoid them abandoning the sector.
Cooperation with the tobacco industry undermines progress on economic development, global health and social justice, core targets of ILO’s mandate and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By separating the issue of child labor from other fundamental ILO rights at work, ECLT allows the tobacco industry to promote a positive public image while continuing the practices that cause labour exploitation in the first place. The guiding principles for the ECLT do not include protecting the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and the companies that fund it have shown hostility to organizing efforts.
It is in this spirit that over 180 non-governmental organizations, amongst them the FCA, have called on the ILO to finally align itself with the model policy agreed for UN agencies and stop all cooperation with ‘Big Tobacco’.