The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is among the last remaining UN agencies to enjoy a partnership with Big Tobacco.
The ILO now has the opportunity to do the right thing and sever its ties with Big Tobacco when its governing body meets on November 1.
Global public health leaders including the World Heath Organisation have this week joined almost 200 organisations and individuals in urging the ILO to end its public-private partnerships with the tobacco industry.
“It is unfortunate that the ILO chooses to damage its reputation by accepting money from the tobacco industry. The other UN agencies have already disengaged themselves from Big Tobacco,” said Dr Mary Assunta, senior policy adviser for the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA).
In June, the UN adopted a resolution encouraging its agencies to place a firewall between the UN and the tobacco industry. Last month, the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) permanently banned tobacco industry participation.
“The ILO has the opportunity to catch up with the other UN agencies and stand on the right side of history to prioritise and protect workers’ welfare,” Dr Assunta added.
Since 2015, the ILO has received more than US$15 million (almost Bt500 million) from tobacco corporations for joint programmes to combat child labour. The industry uses this collaboration to boost its public relations, but in reality it does little to address the cycle of poverty among farmers that forces children to labour in tobacco fields.
“The ILO should not be swayed by the paltry handouts from the tobacco industry. It should be clear to the ILO that the many years of collaboration with the industry have not eliminated the child labour problem. The ILO governing body must choose to cut ties with the tobacco industry as recommended in the model policy of the UNIATF,” said Assunta, referring to the UN Inter-agency Task Force.
The ILO is a member of the UNIATF, which adopted a policy last year to reject partnerships, joint programmes, non-binding or non-enforceable agreements and any other voluntary relationships with the tobacco industry.
About 80 per cent of the world’s 1.2 billion smokers live in poor- and middle-income countries. The global tobacco industry is focused on increasing its profits from these parts of the world since smoking is declining in high-income countries.
In the Asean region, countries with the largest number of poor smokers such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar and Vietnam have been targeted specifically by transnational tobacco companies to increase cigarette sales.
Wendell C Balderas