Skip to content ↓
Press Room

Vital Strategies joins UN agencies to urge the International Labor Organization (ILO) to cut tobacco industry ties

(New York, USA) – Vital Strategies today joins health, human rights and labor organizations’ in our dismay that the Governing Body of the International Labor Organization (ILO) has decided to postpone a vote to cut its ties with the tobacco industry. The ILO is further urged to cut ties with tobacco companies and prohibit all members of the tobacco industry from participation in the ILO in March 2018 at the 332nd Session of the Governing Body in Geneva.

“Tobacco will kill as many as one billion people this century — taking a greater claim on human health than any other single risk factor for disease,” said José Luis Castro, President and CEO, Vital Strategies. “The tobacco industry consistently portrays itself as being active in corporate social responsibility, but continues to profit from child labor and dangerous, unfair working conditions, primarily in low- and middle-income countries. According to the Framework Convention Alliance, over 1.3 million children work on tobacco farms in the major tobacco growing countries – damaging their health and their education – to generate greater profits for tobacco leaf companies and cigarette manufacturers. 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.”

“Vital Strategies calls on the ILO’s Governing Body to vote to exclude the tobacco industry and protect vulnerable workers. Doing so will bring the ILO into line with Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and other UN agencies, and set an example to countries all around the world. It would also reaffirm the uniquely harmful nature of the tobacco industry, and erode the industry’s ability to project a veneer of credibility and influence individuals, governments and policies via United Nations agencies. The UN Global Compact was the latest to disassociate itself from the tobacco industry, and we urge the ILO’s Governing Body to use its vote wisely.”

According to Stop Corporate Abuse, Japan Tobacco International and other tobacco corporations have given the ILO more than $15 million USD since 2015. In June 2017, the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC) adopted a resolution encouraging all UN agencies to develop policies that would place a firewall between the UN and the tobacco industry.

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 2012, tobacco growers and workers produced nearly 7.5 million tonnes of raw tobacco on almost 4.3 million hectares of agricultural land across more than 120 countries, according to The Tobacco Atlas. Exploitative buying practices and unfair contracts promoted by cigarette makers and leaf buying companies trap farmers in cycles of poverty, push farmers into debt, and create conditions that promote child labor. A number of studies, including a 2016 report from American Cancer Society on tobacco farming in Malawi, show that contract farming – whereby tobacco companies increase their profits by contracting tobacco farmers to sell exclusively to them or their surrogates – 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; according to the WHO FCTC policy paper on alternative livelihoods, 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.

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 or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health and tobacco control expert, please contact Christina Honeysett, Vital Strategies, at +1 914.424.3356 or