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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2041

ILO should drop the tobacco industry - Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

By Manjari Peiris

The governing body of the International Labor Organization (ILO) – a United Nations agency –will meet in Geneva, beginning on October 26, to decide whether to cast out tobacco companies from its membership.

The ILO aims to ensure that it serves the needs of working women and men by bringing together governments, employers and workers to set labor standards develop policies and devise programmes.

The very structure of the ILO, where workers and employers together have an equal voice with governments in its deliberations, shows social dialogue in action. It ensures that the views of the social partners are closely reflected in ILO labour standards, policies and programmes.

Nearly 200 public health organizations, labor rights groups and others are calling on the International Labor Organization – a United Nations agency – to cast out tobacco companies from its membership and live up to its promise of protecting laborers.

The ILO encourages this tripartism within its constituents - employers, workers and member States, by promoting a social dialogue between trade unions and employers in formulating, and where appropriate, implementing national policy on social, economic, and many other issues.

Mark Hurley, International Director of Tobacco Industry Campaigns, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Washington DC., says, "If the ILO is to live up to its promise of promoting rights at work, encouraging decent employment opportunities and enhancing social protection, the decision should be an easy one: The governing body must prohibit all members of the tobacco industry from participation in the ILO."

Tobacco companies victimize farmers and other workers through practices including unfair pricing strategies, abusive contracts and child labor. They have no place in a UN agency concerned with fair labor practices and human rights.

A letter from nearly 200 public health organizations, labor rights groups and others sent to members of the ILO governing body this week describes how tobacco companies victimize farmers and other workers through practices including unfair pricing strategies, abusive contracts and child labor. Companies employing these predatory tactics have no place in a United Nations agency concerned with fair labor practices and human rights.

"Tobacco companies use membership in respected organizations like the ILO to portray themselves as responsible corporate citizens when in fact they are the root cause of a global tobacco epidemic that is projected to kill one billion people worldwide this century. Tobacco companies continue to aggressively market their deadly products to children and other vulnerable populations around the world, to mislead the public about the health risks of their products and to attack every effort to reduce tobacco use and save lives. Tobacco companies that spread death and disease across the globe should have no place in a UN agency, or any responsible organization", says Mark Hurley.

Another United Nations agency, the World Health Organization, administers an international tobacco control treaty – the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) – which obligates nations to implement proven strategies to reduce tobacco use and states that the tobacco industry’s interests are in clear conflict with public health goals. As long as it allows tobacco industry members, the ILO will be out of step with the 181 parties to the FCTC and other UN agencies.

Action taken by the ILO would bring the agency in line with the World Health Organization’s international treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Just last month, the UN Global Compact also took action to cut ties with tobacco companies.

"The ILO should join other international organizations and agencies acting to cut ties with tobacco companies" Mark Hurly states.

In September the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) announced that it would bar tobacco companies and any other organization that derives revenue from the production or manufacturing of tobacco products from participating in the initiative. This announcement from the UNGC was a positive step for global public health as it helps preventing tobacco companies from burnishing their public image through association with credible organizations such as the United Nations.

The only businesses in the world now banned from UNGC participation are those associated with the production of landmines, chemical, nuclear and biological weapons; businesses subject to a UN sanction; businesses blacklisted by the UN Procurement Office for ethical reasons; and tobacco companies.

The UNGC is the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative and encourages companies to align strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption –a mandate that has been abused by the tobacco industry which paints itself as a socially responsible business.

The new ban reflects the horrible reality of the deadly products sold and aggressively marketed by tobacco companies: Tobacco use is the world’s leading cause of preventable death and is projected to claim one billion lives this century unless countries take strong action to prevent it.

The UNGC announcement served as an example to governments, other businesses, and public-private partnerships currently engaged with tobacco companies.

Around the world, tobacco companies deceptively use a wide range of tactics to legitimize themselves as “responsible corporate citizens” in order to build goodwill among the public and policymakers, all with the goal of selling more of their deadly products. Unless more organizations act to isolate tobacco companies by refusing their membership or participation, the tobacco industry will continue to wield enormous influence around the world, undermine life-saving public health policies and recruit new smokers into a lifetime of addiction.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids applauds the UNCG's leadership along with institutions throughout the United Nations system and confirms that they should adopt policies to insulate themselves from the influence of the tobacco industry. Such policies would be in line with the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a public health treaty that obligates its 181 parties to implement strong tobacco control measures and ensure that public health policies are free from the interference of tobacco companies.

- Asian Tribune –

Mark Hurley -International Director of Tobacco Industry Campaigns, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kid
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