International Labour Organization forced to address conflict of interest

16 October 2017

Responding to mounting pressure, UN agency to consider severing ties with the tobacco industry

Following the decision by the UN Global Compact in September to exclude the tobacco industry, the International Labour Organization (ILO) will decide shortly whether it, too, will finally sever ties with Big Tobacco. The decision, set to come at its governing body meeting at the end of October, could close one of the tobacco industry’s last-remaining avenues of influence to the United Nations.

The decision comes as public health and labour leaders from around the world delivered a letter [1] this week to government representatives of the ILO Governing Body calling on them to end the ILO’s public-private partnerships with the tobacco industry. Global public health leaders from the Secretariat of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) [2] to global tobacco control organizations [3] have long called for the ILO to shut its doors to Big Tobacco.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of public health charity Action on Smoking and Health, said:

“Tobacco kills millions every year, it is the only legal product that is lethal when used as intended and it undermines health and development.  Finally the ILO is taking this seriously and we urge it to join other UN agencies in cutting its ties with Big Tobacco, in line with the requirements of the global health treaty the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.”

Since 2015, the ILO has received more than $15 million USD from tobacco corporations for joint programs, including more than $10 million from Japan Tobacco International for its Achieving Reduction of Child Labour in Supporting of Education (ARISE) program. [4] The industry promotes these programs to boost its public relations, [5] but they do little to curb child labour 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 ILO’s links to the tobacco industry violates a core tenet of the FCTC,[6] which establishes a firewall between the tobacco industry and public health policymaking.


Notes and Links:

Action on Smoking and Health is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. For more information see:

ASH receives funding for its programme of work from Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.

ASH staff are available for interview and have an ISDN line. For more information contact ASH on 020 7404 0242 or out of hours Deborah Arnott on 07976 935 987 or Hazel Cheeseman on 07754 358 593.

[1] Letter to the government members of the ILO Governing Body, Unfair Tobacco website. October 2017

[2] There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, Huffington Post 8 March 2017

[3] ILO should vote to keep the tobacco industry from the policy table. Press release. Vital Strategies. 15 March 2017.

[4] Reducing the worst forms of child labour in tobacco-growing communities in Brazil, Malawi and Zambia: Public-Private Partnership. ILO website. 6 October 2015.  

[5]  Otanez M, Glantz S, Social responsibility in tobacco production? Tobacco companies use of green supply chains to obscure the real costs of tobacco farming. BMJ Tobacco Control. April 2011.

[6] World Health Organisation, Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.