International Tobacco Growers Association

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The International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) claims to be a ‘non-profit organisation… with the objective of presenting the cause of millions of tobacco farmers to the world’. 1 In fact, it is a tobacco industry front group set up and run by major cigarette manufacturers.

A “Front” for Lobbying in Low and Middle Income Countries

Tobacco industry documents describe the development of the ITGA and show that it was always intended to be a front group for large cigarette manufacturers. In the early 1980s major tobacco companies wanted to “mobilise the global agro-lobby” to help with industry advocacy, so they created an organisation that appeared to represent the needs of worldwide tobacco growers.2 The ITGA was duly set up in 1984.3
A 1988 BAT memo describes how the industry wanted the organisation to function. It says:

Manufacturers … would ‘control’ the primary funding of the organisation, and would thus be able to ensure that it stuck to politics… The ITGA could ‘front’ for our Third World lobby activities at the World Health Organisation, and gain support from nations hostile to multinational corporations. The ITGA (pushed by us) could activate regional agriculture lobbies which are at present very weak and resistant to industry pressure.4

According to an industry document about the management of ITGA by an organisation called Agro-Tobacco Services:

The principal role of the new consultancy will be to control the international voice of agro-tobacco on behalf of its clients, ensuring that best use is made of the ITGA as a vehicle for targeted lobby activities. In particular, the consultancy will provide the coordination, facilitation, and motivation necessary to realize the full potential of the tobacco growers’ lobby. . . . Agro-Tobacco Services will develop and implement action plans for each of the ITGA member organizations, develop new argumentation, and liaise with external allies.5

Capturing the “Moral High Ground”

The industry’s plan was for the ITGA to lobby both the World Health Organization and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). An industry document from 1991 outlines how they hoped that tobacco growers would capture the “moral high ground” by convincing policymakers of the development and economic benefits of tobacco farming to producing countries. It says:

By providing the resources necessary to transform the ITGA from an introspective and largely ineffectual trade association to a pro-active, politically effective organization, the industry created the opportunity to capture the moral high ground in relation to a number of fundamental tobacco-related issues.6

To “Challenge and Ridicule” the World Health Organisation

A 2005 report published by Action on Smoking and Health, Christian Aid and Friends of the Earth described how Shabanji Opukah, British American Tobacco (BAT) Corporate Responsibility Manager wanted to use the ITGA to undermine the World Health Organisation (WHO).7 It describes how he devised a strategy to “target WHO’s blind spots on key primary health priorities, such as HIV/AIDS prevention and malaria. Working through African and Latin American members, ITGA will build actions with their governments to put pressure on WHO.”7
The report adds that Opukah wanted to get some return for the money BAT had spent supporting tobacco growers at a Pan Africa HIV/AIDS conference, by undermining the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control through having tobacco growers from the developing world “challenge and ridicule” it:

“On FCTC the ITGA Africa region agreed that these countries’ priority is not tobacco and health issues rather AIDs is the big issue… The ITGA agreed to support fully a proposal for a pan African aids conference to be held in Zambia in September hosted by the health ministry at which they will discuss the aids scourge in Africa. The ITGA is going to present what their grower associations have been doing to support government and NGO efforts in combating AIDs sic in Africa and through that highlight the importance of tobacco to the economy whilst relegating it as an issues in the health priorities of these countries. Then sic idea is to use the forum to challenge and ridicule the WHO convention. I suggest that we support fully the ITGA’s efforts in this regard …Needless to repeat this is one way of us getting value from our subs to ITGA – a natural ally.” 7

2010: Attacked the WHO and FCTC

Thirty years on from its inception, the ITGA was still attacking the WHO and Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).89
In May 2010 the ITGA expressed “outrage” over new recommendations from the FCTC, which included a proposed ban on ingredients used in the manufacturing of tobacco products, claiming the proposal “could wipe out the livelihoods of millions of tobacco growers all over the world”, 10 a claim for which there was no evidence.11
After organising a regional lobbying forum in Indonesia in June 2010, the IGTA released a statement in September repeating claims of the threat of job losses if the product regulations were adopted. 11
At the WHO Conference of the Parties (COP 4) in Uruguay the following month, they attempted to undermine the FCTC by mobilising tobacco farmers in protest against articles 9 and 10 (on the regulation of tobacco products) and articles 17 and 18 (on viable alternatives to tobacco growing). The ITGA also protested their exclusion from the decision making process.111213
António Abrunhosa, ITGA’s Chief Executive, admitted to the media at the time that the organisation had received “some support” from the tobacco industry for its campaign.14

2016: Demanded a ‘Seat at the Table’

According to the WHO the ITGA is a route used by tobacco companies to attempt to become involved in decision making.8 In April 2016, President of the ITGA, Francois Van der Merwe stated that “the ITGA has a good dialogue with the United Nations and International Labour Organisation”, but that the WHO and FCTC lacked transparency, and that there should be a “dialogue with farmers”.8 Merwe was also reported as referring specifically to BAT’s contribution to the economy of South Africa, and said that “the industry should be supported and included in the processes that affect them”15
In October 2016, in the run-up to COP 7 in New Delhi, India, ITGA repeated the same economic arguments used in 2010, adding that impact assessments should be made on proposed FCTC measures.161718
The WHO and the Framework Convention Alliance warn against engagement with the ITGA due to its links to the industry.819

Member of the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation

ITGA is a member of the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco-Growing Foundation (ECLT).20 In addition to ITGA, in 2019 ECLT members, or “donors”, included BAT, Imperial Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International (JT), Philip Morris International (PMI), and Swedish Match, amongst others.
Until 2018 ECLT had a partnership with the (ILO), a United Nations (UN) agency, focussed on issues related to labour such as international labour standards, social protection and unemployment.2122
For more information see our page on the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

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  1. Who we are and what we do, ITGA website, undated, accessed July 2019
  2. January 1989 Discussion Paper, Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, 30 January 1989, accessed July 2019
  3. History of the ITGA, ITGA website, undated, accessed July 2019
  4. International Tobacco Growers’ Association, John Bloxcidge, 11 October 1998, accessed July 2019. Note: two acronyms in the original – WHO and MNCs – have been written in full by us here for the sake of clarity.
  5. Quoted in Golden leaf, barren harvest, report by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, November 2001, accessed July 2019
  6. Letter from Martin Oldman to Gaye Pedlow enclosing agro-tobacco programme, Martin Oldman, 13 March 1991, accessed July 2019
  7. abcBAT in its own words, Action on Smoking and Health, Christian Aid and Friends of the Earth, 2005, accessed July 2019
  8. abcdWorld Health Organisation, Impact of the WHO FCTC on the behaviour of the tobacco industry, FCTC Secretariat paper, undated, accessed July 2019
  9. Tobacco Free Kids, Tobacco Industry Front Group: The International Tobacco Growers’ Association, TFK Factsheet, November 2011, accessed July 2019
  10. International Tobacco Growers’ Association Exposes the Likely Loss of Millions of Jobs Due to WHO Proposal on Tobacco Ingredients, “BusinessWire”, 25 May 2010, accessed July 2019
  11. abcM. Assunta, Tobacco industry’s ITGA fights FCTC implementation in the Uruguay negotiations, Tobacco Control 2012; 21: 563–68
  12. South East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, Tobacco Industry Front Groups and Activities, SEATCA fact sheet, undated, accessed July 2019
  13. Exposing and addressing tobacco industry conduct in low-income and middle-income countries, A.B. Gilmore, G. Fooks, J. Drope, et al, The Lancet, 2015; 385(9972):1029–1043
  14. E. Cropley, K. Kelland, African farmers fear tobacco curb “catastrophe”, “Reuters”, 4 November 2010, accessed July 2019
  15. S. Mchunu, Tobacco growers seek inclusion, “IOL”, 3 October 2016, accessed July 2019
  16. South East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, Tobacco industry applied pressure on the COP & Government of India, SEATCA website, 1 November 2016, accessed July 2019
  17. Farmers angry at WHO treatment, “Tobacco Reporter”, 31 October 2019, accessed July 2019
  18. A. Kalra, India’s tobacco industry, government face off ahead of WHO conference, “Reuters”, 27 October 2019, accessed July 2019
  19. Framework Convention Alliance, International Tobacco Growers’ Association (ITGA): Frequently Asked Questions, FCA factsheet, July 2014, accessed July 2019
  20. The Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation, A sector-wide coalition against child labour: Donors, undated, accessed July 2019
  21. International Labour Organization, Mission and impact of the ILO, 2017, accessed July 2019
  22. Framework Convention Alliance, ILO Ends Contracts With Tobacco Companies – Will It Be Forever?, News Item 8 November 2018, accessed May 2019