WASHINGTON, D.C. – Beginning on October 26, the governing body of the International Labor Organization (ILO) – a United Nations agency –will meet in Geneva to decide whether to cast out tobacco companies from its membership. If the ILO is to live up to its promise of promoting rights at work, encouraging decent employment opportunities and enhancing social protection, the decision should be an easy one: The governing body must prohibit all members of the tobacco industry from participation in the ILO.
A letter from nearly 200 public health organizations, labor rights groups and others sent to members of the ILO governing body this week describes how tobacco companies victimize farmers and other workers through practices including unfair pricing strategies, abusive contracts and child labor. Companies employing these predatory tactics have no place in a United Nations agency concerned with fair labor practices and human rights.
Tobacco companies use membership in respected organizations like the ILO to portray themselves as responsible corporate citizens when in fact they are the root cause of a global tobacco epidemic that is projected to kill one billion people worldwide this century. Tobacco companies continue to aggressively market their deadly products to children and other vulnerable populations around the world, to mislead the public about the health risks of their products and to attack every effort to reduce tobacco use and save lives. Tobacco companies that spread death and disease across the globe should have no place in a UN agency, or any responsible organization.