By Mafoya Dossoumon, Communications Manager at Framework Convention Alliance
The International Labour Organization (ILO) partnership with the tobacco industry-funded Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT) and Japan Tobacco International (JTI) is a relic of a bygone era, when the tobacco industry was seen as a normal business.
The partnership stands in contrast with Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC), a global treaty with 181 Parties.
The United Nations Interagency Taskforce (UNIATF) on Non-Communicable diseases, of which ILO is a member, recommends that United Nations (UN) agencies limit interactions and avoid any real or perceived partnership with the tobacco industry.
The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC) adopted Resolution E/RES/2017/8, which calls on members of the Taskforce to develop and implement policies on preventing tobacco industry interference, bearing in mind the Model Policy for agencies of the UN, drafted by UNIATF.
Last week in Geneva, the ILO, one of the last UN agencies to cooperate with the tobacco industry, reconsidered its unnatural relationship with the industry.
Framework Convention Alliance (FCA) strongly recommends an end to the Public-Private Partnership (PPPs) with ECLT and JTI.
An independent trade union, the Tobacco and Allied Workers Union of Malawi (TOAWUM), wrote to the ILO Governing Body to support an end to cooperation with the tobacco industry as such partnerships would not address the root cause of tobacco-related child labour.
a Two months ago in Geneva, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) of which TOAWUM is an affiliate, adopted a resolution which condemns private sector and multi-stakeholder child labour schemes, which allow companies to evade responsibility for meaningfully addressing the root cause of child labour in their operations.
b The world cigarette market value is estimated to be worth nearly $700 billion.
c Meanwhile, over 6 million tobacco users, who mostly live in the global south, die each year from tobacco-related causes.Tobacco production which also mostly occurs in the global south has negative health, economic and environmental effects.
d Tobacco farm workers remain ensnared in a vicious cycle of poverty, illness and labour exploitatione despite the ‘good intentions’ of the corporate social responsibility initiatives of tobacco companies.
As the only tripartite UN agency with government, employer, and worker representatives, it is the ILO’s duty to act on the genuine and legitimate concerns of tobacco farm workers.
The ILO is at risk of developing a dependence on ‘Big Tobacco’ money if it continues its partnerships with ECLT and JTI.
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.
During the 331st session of the ILO Governing Body, the European Union (EU) proposed an end to the PPPs between the ILO and the tobacco industry, with the ILO presenting a plan for alternative funding at the next meeting of the Governing Body in March 2018.
Given the commitment of development partners to tobacco control and the official support of the EU’s proposal by countries such as Canada, the ILO can and should find alternative and additional funding to finally address the root causes of child labour as requested by tobacco farm workers’ groups.
Given all we know about the large multinational corporations who foster the tobacco epidemic and the conditions that keep farm workers in poverty, the ILO must heed the call of the nearly 200 non-governmental organizations from the labour, health and development sectors who asked for an end to partnerships with the tobacco industry.
f It is time for the ILO to stop all cooperation with transnational tobacco companies and affiliated entities.