The Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control

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Ending Tobacco Industry-ILO Cooperation Once and for All

An independent trade union, the Tobacco and Allied Workers Union of Malawi (TOAWUM), wrote to the ILO Governing Body to support an end to cooperation with the tobacco industry as such partnerships would not address the root cause of tobacco-related child labour.[a]

Two months ago in Geneva, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) of which TOAWUM is an affiliate, adopted a resolution which condemns private sector and multi-stakeholder child labour schemes, which allow companies to evade responsibility for meaningfully addressing the root cause of child labour in their operations.[b]

The world cigarette market value is estimated to be worth nearly $700 billion.[c] Meanwhile, over 6 million tobacco users, who mostly live in the global south, die each year from tobacco-related causes. Tobacco production which also mostly occurs in the global south has negative health, economic and environmental effects.[d]

Tobacco farm workers remain ensnared in a vicious cycle of poverty, illness and labour exploitation[e] despite the ‘good intentions’ of the corporate social responsibility initiatives of tobacco companies.

As the only tripartite UN agency with government, employer, and worker representatives, it is the ILO’s duty to act on the genuine and legitimate concerns of tobacco farm workers. The ILO is at risk of developing a dependence on ‘Big Tobacco’ money if it continues its partnerships with ECLT and JTI.

To promote decent work, successfully guard against interference with labour standards, policies and programmes, the ILO must keep the tobacco industry at bay. Ending child labour in tobacco growing can be achieved without taking money from the tobacco industry.

During the 331st session of the ILO Governing Body, the European Union (EU) proposed an end to the PPPs between the ILO and the tobacco industry, with the ILO presenting a plan for alternative funding at the next meeting of the Governing Body in March 2018.

Given the commitment of development partners to tobacco control and the official support of the EU’s proposal by countries such as Canada, the ILO can and should find alternative and additional funding to finally address the root causes of child labour as requested by tobacco farm workers’ groups.

Given all we know about the large multinational corporations who foster the tobacco epidemic and the conditions that keep farm workers in poverty, the ILO must heed the call of the nearly 200 non-governmental organizations from the labour, health and development sectors who asked for an end to partnerships with the tobacco industry.[f]

It is time for the ILO to stop all cooperation with transnational tobacco companies and affiliated entities.


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[a]Tobacco and Allied Workers Union of Malawi (TOAWUM) Letter to ILO 

[b]27th World Congress IUF. Resolutions adopted by the 27th Congress.

[c]Euromonitor International. Latest Research: What the 2017 Edition Tobacco Data is Telling Us.

[d] Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2017;95:362-367. doi:

[e] Centre for Social Concern. Malawi at 52: Using Tenants at the Expense of Decent Work in the Tobacco Value Chains. 2017. Pg. 22.


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