Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco-Growing Foundation (ECLT)

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The Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco-Growing (ECLT) Foundation is a Swiss-based non-profit organisation that describes itself as an “independent foundation” and a “global leader” in eliminating child labour.12

In reality, the ECLT Foundation is both funded and governed by tobacco companies, and is a vital part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy.

All four major Transnational Tobacco Companies (TTCs) have been part of ECLT’s board from its creation in 2000: British American Tobacco (BAT), Imperial Brands (IMB), Japan Tobacco International (JTI), and Philip Morris International (PMI). Other organisations that are, or have been, on the ECLT board include Swedish Match, Gallaher (now JTI), Scandinavian Tobacco and the International Tobacco Growers Association, as well as other national tobacco companies and tobacco growers.3For a full list of current ECLT Board members, see the section below.

In 2001, the year after it was formed, ECLT reported income from members, the bulk of its income source, as CHF247,000 (approximately USD$247,000). Twenty years later, in 2021, its reported income had grown to USD $5,737,521, which came entirely from “donor contributions”.4567 According to the ECLT’s internal regulations, organisations and companies represented on the Board “must commit themselves to a financial contribution in favor of the Foundation”.8

ECLT states that its “sole purpose and mandate is to prevent and protect children from child labour wherever tobacco is grown”.2 It promotes itself, and its public-private partnerships (PPPs) with the United Nations (UN), as part of the solution to tackling child labour in low and middle-income countries.


The ECLT Foundation was set up in Geneva in September 2000 as part of a wider strategy by the major tobacco companies, particularly BAT, to protect their corporate reputations and position themselves as “socially responsible”.9

Its establishment followed high profile exposés of child labour on tobacco farms in the late 1990s, notably in Malawi, and the adoption of International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 182 in June 1999, which outlawed the “worst forms of child labour”.10

ECLT grew out of a joint agreement in 2000 between BAT and the tobacco industry front group the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA),11 with The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), to develop a programme of research and education aimed at eradicating child labour.12

BAT: “A Good Opportunity to Move to the Moral High Ground”

A peer-reviewed 2006 academic study on the ECLT Foundation’s pilot project in Malawi concluded, after analysing relevant BAT internal documents from 1998-2002, that the tobacco giant was using child labour projects as a means of enhancing its reputation. It argued that:

“rather than actively and responsibly working to solve the problem of child labour in growing tobacco, the company acted to co-opt the issue to present themselves over as a ‘socially responsible corporation’ by releasing a policy statement claiming the company’s commitment to end harmful child labour practices, holding a global child labour conference with trade unions and other key stakeholders, and contributing nominal sums of money for development projects largely unrelated to efforts to end child labour.”9

The study, by Otañez et al, revealed how the IUF, ILO and International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) had commissioned a film that showed children as young as five working on tobacco farms in Malawi during the spring harvest in 1999. The idea was to put pressure on the companies and the Confederation of European Community Cigarette Manufacturers (CECCM, now Tobacco Europe) over its denials that child labour was occurring there. However, internal BAT documents released to the public through a litigation settlement in the United States and now online at the Truth Tobacco Industry Documents database show that IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald had promised that the film would not be anti-tobacco and “would be consigned to the archives” if the CECCM and companies cooperated and acknowledged the child labour problem in Malawi.139

The IUF signed a joint declaration on child labour in June 1999 with the ITGA, witnessed by ILO Executive Director Kari Tapiola.14 Correspondence that year between BAT and Hallmark, its UK public relations agency, showed a series of revised draft statements between IUF and ITGA. The final published version on the conference website15 – drafted by Hallmark and BAT – notably dropped the IUF’s proposed inclusion of “respect for worker’s rights to freedom of association (as defined in ILO Convention 97)”.16

In October 2000, BAT co-organised a conference in Nairobi, Kenya, with the IUF and ITGA, titled “Eliminating Child Labour: Establishing Best Practices in Tobacco Farming”.171819 According to the event brochure, the ILO’s Kari Tapiola was a keynote speaker, alongside two BAT staff, the ITGA’s president and the IUF’s Ron Oswald.1720 A BAT executive later deemed the conference “a huge success” in countering rising international concern among the UN, OECD, ILO and EU over human rights and labour standards – an agenda BAT described as being pushed by NGOs and other stakeholders “who seemed to be winning”. BAT’s international development affairs manager Shabanji Opukah wrote on 9 November 2000:

“Clearly, the successful launch of the ECLT has given us an excellent and rare opportunity to engage with our stakeholders on major platforms around what are today amongst some of the high profile and contentious global issues affecting reputation of international business.”

adding that:

“Our partnership with the IUF and ITGA gives us a good opportunity to move to the moral high ground on this particular issue and we would like to make use of it in line with the BAT CORA Consumer and Regulatory Affairs strategy for recognition as a responsible tobacco company. This strategy identifies corporate conduct and accountability as one of the six reputation management initiatives. Stakeholder engagement and communication is in this platform.”921

According to the minutes of an October 2001 Tobacco Workers Trade Group Meeting at which ECLT’s first Executive Director Marc Hofstetter and project manager Alain Berthoud introduced themselves, the IUF was to hold the rotating presidency of the ECLT Foundation for the first two years. Ron Oswald was its first president.22

The IUF is no longer a board member of the ECLT Foundation. An ILO document on its tobacco industry partnerships in 2017 stated:

“the IUF served as ECLT’s President until 2013, when it withdrew, citing the viability and success of the Foundation as reasons for its decision to direct its capacity devoted to eliminating child labour elsewhere”.23

In explaining their decision to withdraw, the IUF also cited the time and resources needed to ensure “our totally uncompromising position that child labour should not be used in any form stay a core feature of the ECLT’s work”, given ECLT’s inclusion of “all major industry players” on its executive board.24

Funding Agreements with the ILO

From 2002 until 2018, the ECLT Foundation had a Public-Private Partnership agreement with the International Labour Organization (ILO). The ILO acted as advisor to the Foundation’s board alongside Save the Children Switzerland.

In March 2017, the ILO disclosed that it had received more than US$5.3 million from ECLT since 2002, but did not provide details on how this funding had been spent.23Its relationship with ECLT, beyond acting as an advisor and observer to ECLT’s board, included the following agreements:

  • The first agreement between ILO and ECLT covered the period 2002 to 2010 and aimed to fund research on child labour practices in Indonesia, the Dominican Republic, East Africa, and specifically, to eliminate child labour in Tanzania.25
  • The second agreement, covering the period between 2011 and 2015, focused on child labour in Malawi.25
  • The third agreement from 2015 until June 2018 was aimed at reducing child labour practices in Malawi, Uganda and Tanzania, promoting dialogue among tobacco growers’ organisations, and developing advice on hazardous tobacco farming work.23

Following sustained pressure from the World Health Organization and more than 100 global groups, the ILO finally announced in November 2018 that it would stop accepting tobacco industry funding for its projects and would also not renew ECLT’s contract, which had expired in June of that year.2627

However, the ILO remains listed as “non-executive advisor” to the ECLT Board, as of 2022.528

Membership of the UN Global Compact

As of June 2022, the ECLT Foundation remains a member of the Child Labour Platform of the voluntary UN Global Compact (UNGC) Human Rights and Labour Working Group – for which the ILO provides the secretariat. It became a member in 2015.29

This is despite the UNGC’s decision in 2017 to permanently sever ties with tobacco companies, following the adoption of a breakthrough United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) resolution (E/2017/L.21) that encouraged UN agencies to develop policies to prevent tobacco industry interference.30

The UNGC Integrity policy review, published in October 2017, stated:

“the UN Global Compact will de-list participating companies which fall under the tobacco exclusion. This new exclusionary criterion is strictly limited to companies that produce and/or manufacture tobacco or are part of a joint venture, have a subsidiary or affiliate stake in a company that produces and/or manufactures tobacco.”31

Relationship with UNICEF

From 2003 to 2005, ECLT funded a programme to prevent child labour in tobacco growing in the Philippines, in which UNICEF acted as an advisor.32

In a study published in the journal Paediatrics on the tobacco industry and children’s rights, the authors described ECLT as one of several front groups used by the industry to successfully engage with UNICEF:

“After UNICEF’s corporate engagement guidelines were loosened in 2003, tobacco companies successfully engaged with UNICEF directly and via front groups, including the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation. This was part of an overall tobacco industry strategy to improve its corporate image, infiltrate the United Nations, and weaken global tobacco-control efforts.”33

The ECLT Foundation rejected these allegations as “baseless” and “false”.34

UNICEF also published a rebuttal, in which it stated that it had not worked on ECLT projects in an advisory capacity, that its only interactions with the Foundation had been limited to “sharing information and increasing awareness about child rights issues related to the industry’s supply chain,” and that it had not received tobacco industry funding.35

Questionable impact on child labour practices

After almost two decades of work by the ECLT Foundation, child labour remains entrenched in many tobacco-growing regions.

ECLT has pointed to its success in removing over 195,000 children from tobacco farms since 2011 and sending over 32,000 to school and vocational training.36However, critics of the Foundation and its tobacco industry members argue that it has done little to redress or target the structural issues afflicting these regions, instead publicising the positive, and often individually-focused, stories.32

In 2018, a series of Guardian investigations revealed “rampant” child labour in Indonesia, Malawi, Mexico and the United States.373839404142 The ILO similarly noted in 2017 that “surveys indicate that child labour is rampant in impoverished tobacco-growing communities”.23 Following the Guardian investigations, a legal claim was launched in the UK in December 2020 against BAT and Imperial Brands, alleging they profited from child labour in Malawi.43

  • For more information on Child Labour in Tobacco growing, see our page CSR: Child Labour

Professor Marty Otañez, an anthropologist from the University of Colorado, and lead author of the previously mentioned 2006 study on BAT and ECLT in Malawi, is a long-standing observer of tobacco farming in that country. Otañez told The Guardian that welfare projects were “pushing out goodwill on behalf of tobacco companies to address some of the problems but avoid the harder issues of leaf prices and living and earnings”.37 Tenant farmers on tobacco estates in Malawi, for example, earn just US$224 a year.39

In September 2017, the Malawi tobacco farmers’ union TOAWUM wrote “on behalf of hundreds of thousands of Malawi farmers” to the ILO’s Governing Body, asking it to ban public-private partnerships with the tobacco industry at its upcoming 331st meeting. In its letter, TOAWUM stated that initiatives such as the ECLT Foundation,

“insufficiently address root causes of tobacco-related child labour, which is endemic poverty among tobacco farmers. That poverty is exacerbated by contracting schemes developed by the very companies funding some projects for ECLT.”44

TOAWUM’s criticism echoed that of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), which wrote to ILO Director Clarence Thomas in 2013 following its own research into child labour and ECLT’s projects in the ASEAN region. It highlighted the hypocrisy of an industry whose business model perpetuates child labour in its supply chain:

“Unlike other industries that have a zero tolerance for child labour, the tobacco industry has set no such polices or target date for complete eradication of child labour. The tobacco industry, while publicly condemning child labour, continues to purchase and use leaves that are produced by child labour and profits from them.

“The tobacco industry’s miniscule contributions through so-called corporate social responsibility activities including the ECLT are a whitewash of the problem. The more serious issue is that these CSR activities provide a convenient platform for tobacco companies to gain access to policy makers who are responsible to approve and implement tobacco control measures. The endorsement from IPEC (Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour) and ILO of ECLT only serves to strengthen and protect the tobacco industry.”32

Legal Threats Against International Tobacco Control Groups

In July 2018, amid a concerted campaign by the WHO and 100 global NGOs to get the ILO to terminate all its tobacco-related partnerships, the ECLT Foundation instructed a Swiss law firm to issue a “formal notice before legal proceedings” against the US-based NGO Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK).45

The legal notice from Capt & Wyss, solicitors for ECLT, emphasised the organisation’s “independence” as a registered non-profit Swiss organisation, and demanded that CTFK “immediately” delete from a press release posted on its website the “defamatory”, “untrue and misleading” references to ECLT as a:

  • “tobacco-industry-dominated group”;
  • “front group for tobacco industry interests under the guise of a corporate social responsibility initiative” and;
  • that it “represents an alliance of tobacco companies and growers – led exclusively by the tobacco industry”.

In addition, the legal notice stated that ECLT “seeks a public and online apology, respectively rectification, relating to this unlawful publication.”45

In his response, CTFK’s President Matthew L. Myers noted that his organisation’s descriptions of ECLT were “well-documented based on the best publicly available information”, “factually accurate” and furthermore were already in the public domain. CTFK received no subsequent response to its reply from either the lawyers or ECLT.46

ECLT also published an online rebuttal to an October 2017 press release by the global NGO Framework Convention Alliance on Tobacco Control (FCA) in which it rejected FCA’s “false” assertions that “Reports have repeatedly claimed that ECLT’s work aims to keep farmers dependent on aid from the tobacco industry to avoid them abandoning the sector.(sic)” and that “ECLT allows the tobacco industry to promote a positive public image while continuing the practices that cause labour exploitation in the first place”.47 The rebuttal was reprinted in Tobacco Reporter.48

Following emails from ECLT’s executive director that same month, the FCA later received a ‘cease and desist’ notice from Capt & Wyss in January 2018 specifically noting the first point above and the FCA’s public “Letter to the UN Secretary General on Cooperation between the Tobacco Industry and the ILO”, signed by over 180 organisations in October 2017.49 Although the FCA did take down both documents as a precautionary response, no further action was taken50and these remain in the public domain.51


From its inception, the ECLT Foundation has typically employed highly experienced human rights and development professionals, many of them with solid track records of working within the UN system either as staff or consultants. This strategy appears to have been critical to tobacco companies’ insistence on the organisation’s “independence” and for its dealings with the ILO and other UN agencies such as UNICEF.

Internal BAT documents now online at the Truth Tobacco Industry Documents archive show that BAT, when setting up ECLT in 2000, was “looking for an executive with experience in the UN and NGO sectors and ability to raise funds on a global scale. The individual will also need to have high diplomatic campaigning and lobbying skills and a good span of experience in these areas. Knowledge of French and other UN languages is also desired…”21

In one case, ECLT’s new executive director in 2008 came directly from working with the ILO in Tanzania.


A list of current staff can be found on the ECLT website.

  • Karima Jambulatova, Executive Director (from May 2019). Has worked with ECLT since 2013.1
  • David Hammond, Executive Director (2017-2019). Barrister and founder of a marine human rights organization.52
  • Sonia C. Velázquez, Executive Director (2012-2017). Previously worked with Plan International, America Humane and Save the Children, among others. Was instrumental in gaining ECLT its ECOSOC consultative status and UN Global Compact membership from 2015.53
  • Marilyn Blaeser, Executive Director (2008-2011), joined ECLT after working for ILO as Chief Technical Advisor (Child Labour) in Tanzania. CV includes six years with UNICEF and UNHCR.54
  • Mark Hofstetter, (2000-2005). Was Head of Delegation at the International Committee of the Red Cross for 13 years before becoming ECLT’s first director.55

Board Members

ECLT’s board is mostly made up of industry executives from cigarette manufacturers and tobacco leaf growers. The following individuals formed the ECLT Board in 2022:28

Projects and partners

ECLT provides details of its activity on its website and in its annual reports. In 2021 it was active in nine countries; in some it worked directly with communities and NGOs, while in others it worked with government, industry, and other stakeholders.4


With the Provincial Commission for the Prevention and Eradication of Child Labour, a public entity, on an awareness-raising campaign in the northern, tobacco-growing province of Misiones. ECLT also provided input for a training curriculum on child labour in Buenos Aires.456


With Defensa Niños y Niñas Costa Rica, in the municipality of San José La Máquina, providing “market-driven youth employment training”.45758


Part of the ‘Partnership in Action Against Child Labour in Agriculture’ (PAACLA), a multi-stakeholder initiative coordinated by the Ministry of National Development Planning. With Jaringan LSM Penghapusan Pekerja Anak (JARAK), Lembaga Pengkajian Kemasyarakatan dan Pembangunan (LPKP) and Yayasan Tunas Alam Indonesia (SANTAI).459


With CARE Malawi, the MicroLoan Foundation, and Rays of Hope.457


With IDE Mozambique and Fundação Apoio Amigo. From 2018 to 2021 ECLT had a Memorandum of Understanding with the government of Mozambique.45760


With Tabora Development Foundation Trust (TDFT) and the Tanzania Association of Women Leaders in Agriculture and Environment (TAWLAE).461


With Uganda Women’s Effort to Save Orphans (UWESO) and ECLA Uganda.457

United States

With state and federal authorities, academia, and other stakeholders on research into child labour in agriculture.4


Participated in a survey on child labour in tobacco growing carried out by the Zimbabwe National Statistical Agency and disseminated by the Ministry of Labour, Public Service and Social Welfare. Supported the creation of a working group on child labour by the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board.4

The ECLT also worked in Kyrgyzstan until 2017.62

Tobacco Tactics Resources

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