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March 15, 2017

ILO should vote to keep the tobacco industry from the policy table

(March 15th, 2017, New York, USA) – Vital Strategies today joined the Secretariat to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) and other health, human rights and labor organizations in calling on the Governing Body of the International Labor Organization (ILO) to vote this week to cut its ties with the tobacco industry. According to Stop Corporate Abuse, Japan Tobacco International and other tobacco corporations have given the ILO more than $15 million USD since 2015.

José Luis Castro, President and CEO, Vital Strategies, said: “The money the ILO received from the tobacco industry is a drop in the ocean compared to the industry’s vast profits and the exorbitant salaries paid to the CEOs of the leading multinational tobacco corporations. These profits are generated from the exploitation of poorly paid adults and children working with a toxic crop that, ultimately, is marketed in a misleading way to generate sales, primarily among poor and vulnerable workers across the world.”  

While the tobacco industry likes to portray itself as being active in corporate social responsibility, in reality it continues to profit from child labor and dangerous, unfair working conditions, primarily in low and middle income countries. This runs contrary to the values enshrined in the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda, which aims to help advance the economic and working conditions that give all workers, employers and governments a stake in lasting peace, prosperity and progress.

Mr. Castro concluded: “If the ILO’s Governing Body votes to exclude the tobacco industry, it would bring the ILO into line with Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC, setting an example to many countries around the world. It would reaffirm the uniquely harmful nature of the tobacco industry. And it would erode the industry’s ability to project a veneer of credibility and influence individuals, governments and policies via United Nations agencies. We urge the ILO’s Governing Body to use its vote wisely to protect vulnerable workers over the tobacco industry’s profits.”

The Tobacco Industry and Tobacco Cultivation

Vital Strategies, in partnership with WHO-SEARO, developed a film showing the reality of working in the tobacco industry. It was filmed in Indonesia, Bangladesh and India and includes interviews with farmers and government representatives, along with key facts about tobacco cultivation. The film is available on Vital Strategies’ YouTube channel and from Vital Strategies.

In 2011, tobacco growers and workers produced nearly seven and a half million tons of raw tobacco on a total of 4.2 million hectares in about 120 countries. Exploitative buying practices and unfair contracts promoted by cigarette makers and leaf buying companies trap famers in cycles of poverty, push farmers into debt, and create conditions that promote child labor. Studies show that contract farming – where tobacco companies increase their profits by directly engaging with tobacco farmers – creates a cycle of indebtedness where farmers find themselves owing tobacco companies significant sums for payments advanced as agricultural inputs year after year. Farmers earn very little for their crop; one ton of raw tobacco produced by a farmer and sold to the “first processor” increases in value by 47.2 times along the production chain before the smoker buys cigarettes. The tobacco industry actively interferes in government policy to promote tobacco cultivation. In August 2010, the US Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that Universal Corporation and Alliance One International, companies that purchase leaf from developing countries for Philip Morris and BAT, paid more than $5 million in bribes to government authorities in Malawi, Mozambique, China, Greece, Indonesia and Kyrgyzstan.

In the major tobacco growing countries, over 1.3 million children work on tobacco farms – damaging their health and their education – to generate greater profits for leaf companies and cigarette manufacturers. On humid days the average field worker may be exposed to as much as 54 mg of dissolved nicotine — equivalent to more than 50 cigarettes. Illnesses related to tobacco cultivation including green tobacco sickness (caused by absorption of nicotine through the skin), pesticide intoxication, respiratory and dermatological disorders and cancers.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that seeks to accelerate progress on the world’s most pressing health problems. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health and tobacco control expert, please contact Tracey Johnston, Vital Strategies, at +44.7889.081.170 or tjohnston@vitalstrategies.org

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