International Labour Organization (ILO)

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The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a United Nations (UN) agency, focussed on issues related to labour such as international labour standards, child labour, social protection and unemployment.1 ILO states that it aims to “bring together governments, employers and workers to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programs”.12 As of April 2021, ILO parties represented 187 Member States.3

The ILO is an observer to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).4 This means that ILO officials are allowed to attend the public and open sessions of the Conference of the Parties of the WHO FCTC, but have no voting rights.

Relationship with the Tobacco Industry

The ILO was one of the last UN agencies to maintain links with tobacco companies, following the UN adoption of a non-binding ‘model policy’, developed in October 2016, to ensure that FCTC measures were consistently applied across all UN agencies.5 This policy unequivocally states that “engagement with the tobacco industry is contrary to the United Nations system’s objectives, fundamental principles and values”.5

Partnership with Tobacco-Funded ECLT

From 2002 until 2018, ILO had a Public Private Partnership (PPP) with the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco-Growing Foundation (ECLT), a tobacco funded organisation which describes itself as “a global leader in preventing child labour in tobacco agriculture, and protecting and improving the lives of children in tobacco-growing areas”. British American Tobacco (BAT), Japan Tobacco International (JTI), Philip Morris International (PMI) and Imperial Tobacco have been members of the ECLT since its creation in 2000. 67

  • For more information on the ECLT, its history, leadership, tobacco company membership, and impact on child labour practices, click here.

The ILO has had three partnerships with the ECLT:8

  • The first agreement covered the period 2002 to 2010 and aimed to fund research on child labour practices in Indonesia, the Dominican Republic, and East Africa, and specifically, eliminate child labour in Tanzania.
  • The second agreement covered the period between 2011 and 2015 and focused on child labour in Malawi.
  • The third agreement, signed in 2015 and expired in 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.

In March 2017, ILO disclosed that it had received more than US$5.3 million from ECLT, but stopped short at providing details on how the funding was spent.7

The ILO’s contract with ECLT was not renewed after it ended in June 2018.9

Partnership with Japan Tobacco International

From 2011 to December 2018, the ILO had a separate PPP with JTI, worth over US$10 million.810

The main output of this PPP was the so-called ARISE programme; fully funded by JTI and managed by not-for-profit organisation Winrock International, it aimed to end child labour and promote workers’ rights and occupational health and safety in Brazil, Malawi, and Zambia.11

The ILO’s contract with JTI was not renewed after it ended in December 2018.

How ILO Partnership Benefited Tobacco Companies

Tobacco companies have repeatedly used their connection with the ILO to rehabilitate their corporate image and present themselves as good corporate citizens, despite the harms caused by tobacco products.12

Below are examples of how tobacco companies have used PPPs with the ILO to further their own interests.

BAT: ECLT Membership Smokescreen and CSR Initiative

A 2006 peer-reviewed study by Otañez et al13 concluded that BAT’s involvement in ECLT programmes in Malawi did little to tackle the “overall problem of child labour and the number of child labourers in Malawi”.

According to the authors, BAT’s funding was focussed on “modest efforts to rehabilitate schools, build wells, train villages in bookkeeping and build community awareness on child labour issues”. Rather than address child labour structurally, BAT’s internal documents showed that the programmes were developed to support BAT’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) agenda, and distract public attention away from the low wages and cheap tobacco BAT purchased in Malawi.13

PMI: Promotion of ILO Connection

In 2015 PMI misused its connection with ILO when the tobacco company placed a rolling banner on its website promoting the World Day Against Child Labour, prominently showing the ILO logo (see Image 2).14

PMI kept the banner on its website for months, only removing it when requested by the ILO Office to do so.7

Image 2: PMI homepage displaying ILO logo prominently (screenshot taken of archived copy of 5 November 2015)

JTI: CSR and Company Promotion

JTI used its PPP with ILO to rehabilitate its image as a ‘responsible company’ and promote partnership working with government. In November 2017, the homepage of JTI’s corporate website was entirely dedicated to portraying the company’s “working in partnership to end child labor” (see Image 1).15 Furthermore, the website also used a quote from ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, to justify JTI’s involvement in PPPs (see image 3). The quote was not dated and the context in which the quote was made was not referenced.16

Image 1: JTI’s corporate homepage (accessed in November 2017)

Image 3 JTI’s corporate website using quote from ILO Director-General to justify tobacco company’s participation in PPP (accessed in November 2017)

On social media, mainly Twitter, JTI employees have communicated the company’s efforts to eliminate child labour, frequently using the hashtag #StrongerTogether and emphasising the benefits of partnership working.1718 One of the tweets, made by JTI’s Sustainability, CSR and Communications Strategist at World Day Against Child Labour 2017, demonstrates that JTI used the ARISE programme to familiarise children with the JTI company logo.19 The tweet shows her saying “thrilled to be part of global team working towards eliminating child labor”, presumably referring to the ARISE programme, and included a photo of herself talking to children, and dressed in a sarong covered in the company logo (see Image 4). The tweet has since been removed from the account.

Image 4: JTI employee involved in ARISE programme dressed in sarong covered in tobacco company logo

The photo is reminiscent of a 2011 report that showed staff of an Indonesian PMI subsidiary delivering aid in branded four wheel drives and wearing red and black uniforms with company logos.20

Pressure to Cut Ties with the Tobacco Industry

ILO was strongly criticised for its partnership with tobacco companies and not adhering to the UN policy on preventing tobacco industry interference.721

In March 2017, the ILO stated that, in order to address potential conflict of interest arisen from ILO’s direct funding from tobacco companies, it would no longer use tobacco money to fund research into hazardous child tobacco farming or use the money to develop guidance on safe tobacco working practices.7 However, it repeatedly deferred a decision to review its partnership.82223

Dr. Vera da Costa e Silva, head of the WHO FCTC Secretariat, stated in July 2017 that: “They (tobacco companies) have masqueraded as partners for decent and well-meaning programmes designed to improve the lot of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.” She added “Given its role in spreading death and disease among millions of people and exacerbating poverty, the tobacco industry can only ever be a hindrance to global development. It needs to be shown the door.”24

In October 2017, more than 200 organisations and leaders in 57 countries, issued an open letter to ILO, asking the organisation to cut ties with the tobacco industry:21

“The ILO risks tarnishing its reputation and the effectiveness of its work if it chooses to continue these partnerships with the tobacco industry. Such relationships contravene the WHO FCTC and enable the tobacco industry to tout its relationship with a reputable institution while continuing to undermine public health policymaking, exploit farmers, and obstruct farm workers’ right to collective bargaining”.

At the ILO session in March 2018, da Costa e Silva reiterated that “the tobacco industry is part of the problem, not the solution”,25 adding that “Decent work deficits in the tobacco sector must be addressed through an integrated strategy”, and “child labor must be eliminated everywhere, including in tobacco growing areas”.25

Further open letters to the ILO in June26 and October 201823 urged the organisation to cut its industry ties by ending its contracts with JTI and ECLT.

An End to Tobacco Industry Funding?

Late 2018 the ILO bowed to pressure from the WHO and public health organisations around the world and decided not to renew its contracts with Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT) and Japan Tobacco International (JTI).9
At its meeting on 8 November 2018 the ILO announced the launch of an “integrated strategy” and its decision to organise a future “tri-partite” meeting, which aimed to:

“promote an exchange of views on the further development and the implementation of the strategy, with among others the participation of the directly affected countries and social partners in the tobacco sector”27

It did not state which specific parties would be involved in this meeting.

The ILO also decided “to continue efforts to mobilise various sustainable sources of funding from the public and private sector with appropriate safeguards”.27
In response to the ending of the ILO’s remaining contracts with the tobacco industry in 2018, the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA) said that they had set “an important precedent” in resisting tobacco company interference 9 and that:

“Rejecting funding from tobacco companies will allow the ILO to maintain its impartiality and enhance its capacity to address the issues that trap workers in systemic poverty including unfair contracts, collusion by companies over leaf prices, and inflation of the costs of farm inputs”.9

In October 2019, the FCA reported that the ILO had “reaffirmed its commitment to no longer rely on funding from tobacco companies and affiliated organisations”, and had “endorsed an integrated strategy to address decent work deficits in the tobacco sector, which will be implemented free from tobacco industry money”.28

The ECLT 2019 Annual Report however still listed the ILO as “non-executive advisor” to the board.29

TobaccoTactics Resources

Relevant Link

TCRG Research

For a comprehensive list of all TCRG publications, including TCRG research that evaluates the impact of public health policy, go to the Bath TCRG’s list of publications.


  1. abInternational Labour Organization, Mission and impact of the ILO, 2021, accessed April 2021
  2. M. Peiris, ILO should drop the tobacco industry – Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 18 October 2017, accessed October 2017
  3. International Labour Organization, Alphabetical list of ILO member countries, undated, accessed April 2021
  4. World Health Organization, International intergovernmental organizations accredited as observers to the COP, 2021, accessed April 2021
  5. abWHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Model policy for agencies of the United Nations system on preventing tobacco industry interference, undated, accessed April 2021
  6. The Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation, About us, 2017, accessed November 2017
  7. abcdeInternational Labour Office, Sixth Item on the Agenda ILO cooperation with the tobacco industry in pursuit of the Organization’s social mandate, Governing Body 329th Session, Geneva 9-24 March 2017, accessed October 2017
  8. abcInternational Labour Office, Fifth Item on the Agenda ILO cooperation with the tobacco industry in pursuit of the Organization’s social mandate, Governing Body 331st Session, Geneva 26 October – 9 November 2017, accessed November 2017
  9. abcdFramework Convention Alliance, ILO Ends Contracts With Tobacco Companies – Will It Be Forever?, 8 November 2018, accessed November 2019
  10. Winrock International, Planting a future without child labor: promoting awareness, education and empowerment in agriculture. Project title: ARISE, undated, accessed November 2017
  11. ARISE, What we Do, 2017, accessed November 2017
  12. M. Rowe, Dossier: Tobacco’s big child labour problem, Geographical, 10 May 2019, accessed May 2019
  13. abM.G. Otañez, M.E. Muggli, R.D. Hurt, et al, Eliminating child labour in Malawi: a British American Tobacco corporate responsibility project to sidestep tobacco labour exploitation, Tobacco Control 2006; 15(3)224-230
  14. Philip Morris International, PMI homepage, Wayback Machine, archived copy of 5 November 2015, accessed November 2017
  15. Japan Tobacco International, Working in partnership to end child labor, undated, accessed November 2017
  16. Japan Tobacco International, Our Views: Public Private Partnership At Risk, website, undated, accessed November 2017
  17. E. MacKay (@ElaineMcKay). Tweet: “No sector, government or organization can solve #childlabor on its own. We are part of the solution #StrongerTogether”. 10 November 2017, 11.27PM. Twitter
  18. E. MacKay (@ElaineMcKay). Tweet: “Participating in this important event this week. Business is part of the #solution to #nochildlabor. Our experience with @Arise_prog demonstrates how impactful #partnerships can be”. 13 November 2017, 9.48PM. Twitter
  19. E. MacKay (@ElaineMcKay). Tweet: “#WDACL2017 & I am thrilled to be part of a global team working to eliminate child labor. Download our latest report:”. 12 June 2017, 10:27AM. Twitter
  20. G. Fooks, S. Peeters, World: disasters are ‘brand aid’ opportunities for tobacco, Tobacco Control 2011, 20:4-7
  21. abFramework Convention Alliance, FCA calls on ILO to cut ties with Tobacco Industry, 16 October 2017, accessed April 2021
  22. WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Governing Body to postpone any decision about cooperation with tobacco industry, 9 November 2017, accessed November 2017
  23. abFramework Convention Alliance, Open Letter to the ILO Governing Body, FCA blog, 30 October 2018, accessed May 2019
  24. V. da Costa e Silva, Time to ban the wolves in sheep’s clothing, 11 July 2017, accessed October 2017
  25. abV. da Costa e Silva, Session of the 332nd Session of the Governing Body, 8–22 March 2018, Transcript of speech, 14 March 2018, accessed May 2019
  26. Letter to ILO on tobacco industry contract renewals,Open letter, 7 June 2018, accessed May 2019
  27. abInternational Labour Organization, Decision concerning an integrated strategy to address decent work deficits in the tobacco sector, ILO record of decision, 8 November 2018, accessed May 2019
  28. Framework Convention Alliance, The ILO ends contracts with tobacco companies, 31 October 2019, accessed November 2019
  29. ECLT, 2019 Annual Report, undated, accessed April 2021
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