Nearly 200 public health organisations, labour rights outfits, and other groups have called on the International Labour Organisation, ILO, a United Nations agency, to expel tobacco companies from its membership and live up to its promise of protecting labourers.
Mark Hurley, International Director of Tobacco Industry Campaigns at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the groups submitted a letter describing how tobacco companies victimise farmers and other workers through practices including unfair pricing strategies, abusive contracts and child labour.
"Tobacco companies use membership of respected organisations like the ILO to portray themselves as responsible corporate citizens when, in fact, they are the root cause of a tobacco epidemic that is projected to kill one billion people worldwide this century," Mr. Hurley said in a statement on Monday.
"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 organisation."
From October 26, the governing body of the ILO will meet in Geneva to decide whether to cast out tobacco companies from its membership.
Last month, the United Nations Global Compact, UNGC, the world's largest corporate sustainability initiative, announced it would bar tobacco companies and any other organisation that derive revenue from the production or manufacturing of tobacco products from the initiative.
The UNGC said the decision was to ensure its policies and practices safeguard the integrity and reputation of the United Nations and the value it upholds.
Another UN agency, the World Health Organisation, administers an international tobacco control treaty - the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, FCTC- which obligates nations to implement proven strategies to reduce tobacco use.
The FCTC also states that the tobacco industry's interests are in clear conflict with public health goals.
"As long as it allows tobacco industry members, the ILO will be out of step with the 181 parties to the FCTC and other UN agencies," Mr. Hurley said.
"The ILO should join other international organisations and agencies to cut ties with tobacco companies."