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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2347

WCTOH to ILO: cut ties with the tobacco industry

By Manjari Peiris

At the concluding ceremony of the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH), one of the declaration called upon the International Labour Organization (ILO) to "align itself with the decision of the UN Economic and Social Council and end its collaboration with the tobacco industry immediately."

More than 2000 delegates from about 100 countries gathered in Cape Town to participate at the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH) from 7th to 9th March 2018, to discuss how to strengthen tobacco control measures.

It is learnt that the ILO has been delaying the decision to cut ties with the tobacco industry for the past one year, stated, Dr. Mary Asunta, Senior Policy Advisor, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, Australia.

Dr. Mary Asunta further mentioned that on 8 March, which coincided with International Women's Day, Dr. Flavia Senkubuge, the first African woman to be President of a WCTOH, chaired a session on "Women, Development and Tobacco Control" which illustrated how tobacco industry has been promoting cigarettes to young women for decades all round the world while entrapping women in exploitative and harmful environment of cheap labour. The women leaders called upon the global community to ensure gender sensitivity is applied to tobacco control efforts, including equity in tobacco control leadership.

Professor Judith Mackay, senior advisor at Vital Strategies, opened the session with a global overview of women’s relationship to tobacco. She highlighted that smoking rates amongst women are still much lower than men, but that the picture was shifting, with significant increases in use amongst women and girls in some low- and middle-income countries.

“The tobacco industry is manipulating women into bondage, not freedom. They target advertising to attract women, using images of slim and liberated women on packaging and in advertising campaigns. But tobacco addiction is bondage.”

During the WCTOH, researchers and experts had presented their findings on how tobacco farmers in Kenya, Nigeria, Malawi and Zambia face numerous problems such as unpaid labour, low prices for their leaves and harms associated with tobacco growing. Tobacco farm workers remain ensnared in a vicious cycle of poverty, illness and labour exploitation. Meanwhile, the tobacco companies have been painting a misleading picture of how tobacco has helped farmers, when the harsh reality on the ground shows a different picture.

To detract policy makers from the truth, the tobacco industry through its front group, the ECLT (Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing) Foundation, has been boosting its CSR programmes with tobacco growing communities in a handful of countries. These programmes do little to solve the deeply entrenched problems farmers face, which are linked to the industry itself, say Dr. Asunta.

The ILO remains the only UN agency that continues to collaborate with the tobacco industry. Over the past several years, the ILO has received about $15 million from Japan Tobacco International (JTI) and the ECLT.

In the run-up to the ILO governing body meeting, the ECLT has been spewing data and heart-warming photos of children and communities it has helped on its website, to garner support for its continued collaboration with the ILO under the public-private partnership program. However the Convention Secretariat to the WHO FCTC has issued a Note Verbale containing 16 Q & A items which provide clarification on the problem associated with accepting money and support from the tobacco industry and the obligations under the FCTC.

The governing body will debate ILO’s policy paper (GB.332/POL/5) which makes a case to end ties with the tobacco industry when current contract ends later this year and to implement an integrated strategy to address labour issues facing the tobacco sector.

Meanwhile the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA) states that in order 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.

The Framework Convention Alliance states that the ILO has a unique opportunity to finally eliminate any undue influence of the tobacco industry over child labour-related policies, at the forthcoming member states meeting in Geneva. The FCA further states that to achieve this outcome, the ILO must vote to, stop accepting money from the tobacco industry and tobacco industry funded organizations AND find alternative and additional funding to address once and for all the root causes of child labour and the conditions that keep tobacco farm workers in poverty. Right now the ILO is the only UN agency that still accepts money from an industry whose products kill 7 million people each year.

According to FCA, a vote to stop taking money from the tobacco industry and tobacco industry funded organizations will ensure that the ILO can effectively help protect tobacco growing communities from unacceptable forms of work. A vote to find alternative and additional funding to address decent work deficits in the tobacco sector will help lift a greater number of tobacco farmers out of poverty.

- Asian Tribune -

WCTOH to ILO: cut ties with the tobacco industry
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