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International Geneva ILO unclear on future funding ties to tobacco sector

Girls gather tobacco leaves in Mardan, Pakistan

Girls gather tobacco leaves in Mardan, Pakistan

(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The Geneva-based International Labour Organization (ILO) announced on Thursday that it would not renew funding from tobacco firms for ongoing initiatives tackling child labour. The body, however, made no clear commitment to reject funding from the tobacco sector in the future. 

Following lengthy talks at its two-week-long Governing Body session in Geneva, the ILO announced on Thursday that it would not be renewing private funding from the tobacco sector for ongoing partnerships aimed at ending child labour in tobacco-growing countries. 

The ILO currently has an ongoing partnership with Japan Tobacco International (JTI)external link for a $10-million (CHF10-million) project (2011-2018) and has partnered since 2002 with the industry-funded Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT),external link receiving $5 million for a recent project. Both public-private partnerships (PPPs) seek to eliminate child labour and promote the rights of workers in tobacco-growing communities in Brazil, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. 

The ILO said its Governing Body – a tripartite body of employers, workers and state representatives – had welcomed the secretariat’s proposalexternal link for an “integrated strategy to address decent work deficits in the tobacco sectorexternal link” but called for its “further development”.

In the short term, funding for ongoing child labour projects will come from the regular ILO budget and other public funds, instead of from the tobacco industry. But the ILO says it will “continue efforts to mobilise various sustainable sources of funding from the public and private sector with appropriate safeguards.”  

+ Read more about the ILO's close ties to the tobacco industry

Supporters of maintaining ties between the ILO and the tobacco industry insist that the sector is a major source of income and employment for 60 million people worldwide.

Tobacco-control activists, who have pushed hard for the ILO to become the last UN agency to sever ties with the tobacco industry, had misgivings about the decision announced on Thursday.

Mafoya Dossoumon, communications manager at the Framework Convention Alliance, said it was good news that the ILO would no longer rely on tobacco funding for existing projects.

“But they have stopped short of making a policy that excludes funding from tobacco companies in the future,” he declared. “Whether they receive funds in the future from the tobacco industry will depend on what they mean by ‘appropriate safeguards’.”

He nonetheless commended the organisation for deciding to address “the root causes of systemic poverty in the tobacco sector, free from the undue influence of tobacco companies, and consistent with Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) and the Model Policy for agencies of the United Nations system on preventing tobacco industry interference”. 

Observers said positions at the Governing Body meeting had been entrenched, with the workers and states prioritising FCTC compliance pitted against employers, African countries and the United States, who supported the continuation of tobacco industry funding. 

For its part, the ECLT welcomed the ILO decisionexternal link: “The ILO Governing Body’s agreement to mobilise various sustainable sources of funding from the public and private sector, with proper safeguards in place, is exactly what is needed to help strengthen and sustain global efforts in the fight against child labour.”

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