In its meeting on 9th November in Geneva, the Governing Body of the International Labour Organization (ILO) decided once again to postpone the decision on cutting tobacco ties and to debate again in March 2018.

Ten years after the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) went into force, the ILO’s hesitant behaviour is disappointing and not acceptable.

In preparation of this meeting, Unfairtobacco together with numerous organisations and individuals from around the world calling upon the ILO to stop taking money from tobacco industry and break its ties once and for all. Even the independent Malawian tobacco workers union (TOAWUM) opposed further cooperation between the ILO and the tobacco industry.

The draft decision prepared by the ILO office even pointed to the continuation of the cooperation. After long and controversial discussions between the representatives of governments, employer associations and unions the decision was re-drafted. The decision now reads:

The Governing Body called on the Director-General, taking into account all views expressed in the current session, to present to the 332nd Session of the Governing Body in March 2018 an integrated ILO strategy to address decent work deficits in the tobacco sector.

What is it all about?

Since 2006, the ILO received more than 15 million US dollar for programmes fighting child labour in tobacco cultivation from Japan Tobacco International and the tobacco industry funded Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation headquartered in Geneva.

The tobacco industry mainly uses these CSR programmes and the reputation of the ILO to boost its public relations and divert attention from the fact that tobacco industry profits massively from child labour. Low prices for tobacco leaf and power imbalances between smallholder farmers and multinational corporations support the cycle of poverty ultimately leading to child labour.

The cooperation with the ILO serves the tobacco industry and its frontgroups well to show up as legitimate negotiating party and to subsequently use these contacts to undermine health policies. This strategy is old and evidence is found in internal industry documents.

ILO postpones decision – and now?

Responding to the tobacco epidemic, the WHO FCTC was developed. The binding international treaty is ratified by 180 states and the EU and includes the article 5.3, a core tenet protecting public health policies against the vested interests of the tobacco industry. As a treaty party, Germany has to meet this commitment.

At UN level, an interagency task force has drafted a model policy to prevent tobacco industry interference implementing this core tenet of the FCTC. As a UN entity, the ILO has the obligation to follow these recommendations. The German government has a permanent seat at the ILO and thus can meet its obligations under the WHO FCTC.

Together with our partners around the world, we will work to ensure the ILO finally cuts its tobacco ties in March 2018.


Ten years after the WHO FCTC went into force, the ILO's hesitant behaviour is disappointing and not acceptable.