By Deowan Mohee
From July 3-5, 2019, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) will hold a technical meeting in Kampala, Uganda, to strategise on how to address decent workdeficits in the tobacco sector, including child labour. In recent years, the ILO received fundingdirectly from tobacco companies and their front groups for this purpose. A Public-Private Partnership (PPP) with Japan Tobacco International (JTI) ended in December 2018, while another fundingpartnership with Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing (ECLT) Foundation, an organisation financed and controlled by the tobacco industry,ended in June 2018.This collaboration has permitted the tobacco industry to be influential in ILO policies, and to portray itself as a credible partner.
Globally, since 2017, there have been calls from public health and civil society organisations for the ILO to cut all ties with the tobacco industry and align itself with the United Nations model policyon preventing tobacco industry interferenceissued in 2016, which requires that the entire UN system rejects payments, gifts, services, or any other form of partnership with the tobacco industry.The ILO, being part of the UN system, and an observer to the Conference oftheParties (COP) of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), is certainly aware of the provisions of this model policy. Even tobacco farmers want an end to the financial links between the tobacco industry and the ILO. In an open letter to members of the ILO’s Governing Bodyissued on 29 September 2017, the Tobacco and Allied Workers Union of Malawi requested that ILO seversties with the industry as it hasseen little or no benefit from social responsibility projects administered by ECLT.
The importance of this Kampala meeting cannot be stressed enough as its recommendations will seriously impact the ultimate decision of the ILO to permanently cut financial ties with the tobacco industry. The latter,known for consistently defending its own interests and not decent work and health conditions oftobacco farmers, will no doubt attempt by all means to influence in its favour the decisions of the Kampala meeting.
As the ILO technical meetingkicks off,therefore, the African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA) calls on participants to think of the good of humanity and tilt their discussions towards taking the firm resolution to avoidILO’sfurtherrelationship with the tobacco industry. By continuing to be associated with the ILO, an important entity of the UN system, the tobacco industry is given the opportunity to be regarded as supporting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), when, in effect, its products cause the death of almost 8 million people every year, and have serious health, socio-economic and environmental consequences.
ATCA commends the initiative of bringing together stakeholders to exchange views on the further development and implementation of the integrated strategy to address decent work deficits in the tobacco sector. It is our wish that the meeting comes up with appropriate strategies the ILO can undertake to operate without tobacco industry funding. In that way, participants of the meeting would have created the legacy of being part of the process that led to the ILO cutting ties permanently with the tobacco industry.
Mr. Deowan Mohee is the Executive Secretary of the African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA), Lome, Togo