International Labour Organization to Consider Severing Ties with the Tobacco Industry


Responding to Mounting Pressure, UN Agency Forced to Address Conflict of Interest

Washington, D.C.—March 14, 2017 – On Wednesday, March 15th, the International Labour Organization (ILO) will vote on whether to cut ties with Big Tobacco. The decision, which will be closely monitored by public health and human rights leaders around the globe, could remove one of the tobacco industry’s final avenues of influence in the United Nations. Most other UN agencies developed firm policies against collaboration with the tobacco industry after the negotiation of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the global anti-tobacco treaty.

The vote comes as public health, labor, and human rights communities have escalated their call for the ILO to extricate itself from Big Tobacco, one of the deadliest industries on the planet. Since 2015, the ILO has received more than $15 million USD from Japan Tobacco International* and other tobacco corporations for programs that boost the industry’s public relations yet do little toward the ILO’s stated purpose of curbing child labor violations in tobacco fields, a problem largely caused by the tobacco industry itself.

The ILO cannot address major human rights violations by collaborating with the perpetrators,” said Laurent Huber, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, who helped negotiate the global tobacco treaty. “Working with the tobacco industry on child labor is like inviting the fox to consult on how best to guard the henhouse.”

United Nations officials, including the Secretariat of the FCTC have also called on the ILO to distance itself from the tobacco industry. The ILO’s coziness with the tobacco industry violates a core tenet of the FCTC, which establishes a firewall between the tobacco industry and public health policymaking.

For years, we have been calling on the ILO to join other UN agencies in distancing itself from Big Tobacco,” said Huber. “On Wednesday, the ILO has the opportunity to stand on the right side of history, and protect workers over corporate profits.”

Child labor in tobacco production is not a problem limited to the developing world. The U.S. government has acknowledged the risks of tobacco farming to children, which includes exposure to carcinogens and acute nicotine poisoning.

Founded in 1919, the ILO brings together governments, employers, and workers to set international labor standards.

Contact: Megan Arendt

Office: (202) 659-4310





Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) is the nation’s oldest anti-tobacco organization dedicated to health for all. ASH was formed in 1967 in response to the U.S. Surgeon General Report in order to use legal action to fight tobacco and protect nonsmokers. Today, because tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death worldwide, ASH uses global tools to counter the global tobacco epidemic. Learn more about our programs at

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*previously sourced to ILO website but dead link removed March 2020:–en/index.htm