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Under mounting pressure, UN Director-General calls on agency to sever tobacco Industry ties
This month, at its governing body meeting, the International Labour Organization (ILO) will decide whether it will sever ties with Big Tobacco. The decision could shutter one of the tobacco industry’s last-remaining avenues of interference in the United Nations, making it harder for it to weaken, delay and block live-saving public health and labour policies.
The vote comes just two weeks after the Director-General issued a report calling on the ILO governing body to end its public-partnerships with Big Tobacco. The Director-General’s report comes on the heels of over 150 public health and labour leaders calling on the ILO to cut ties with the deadly industry and as the Secretariat of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is demanding the ILO sever ties.
“ILO and Big Tobacco’s split is long past-due: The ILO must join other U.N. agencies in casting this deadly industry out for good,” said Labram Musah “Big Tobacco has no place in any U.N. space. This month, the ILO has the opportunity to stand on the right side of history and show Big Tobacco the door.”
To date, the ILO has received more than US$15 million from tobacco corporations for joint programs, including more than US$10 million from Japan Tobacco International (JTI) for an effort to curb child labor in tobacco farming. The Director-General’s report finds, however, that the focused initiatives do little to curb child labor in tobacco fields because they do not shift the tobacco industry-driven cycle of poverty for tobacco farmers that forces children into the fields.
The tobacco industry commonly promotes programs like these to boost its public image and maintain influence in policymaking spaces. In the same vein as JTI’s effort, Philip Morris International recently launched a Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, to which it will give nearly $1 billion over the next decade.
“The ILO is one of the last avenues of Big Tobacco’s influence into the U.N.,” said Jaime Arcila, Latin America organizer with Corporate Accountability’s tobacco campaign. “It’s high time the ILO recognize the harms Big Tobacco poses to public health, workers and the environment and end its partnerships with the industry.”
Despite Big Tobacco’s abusive labor practices and its membership violating a core tenet of the Global Tobacco Treaty, its influence still runs deep in the ILO: In November 2017, the Governing Body failed to come to a decision on whether or not to end its private-public partnerships with tobacco corporations.