As the 334th session of the International Labour Organisation's governing body gets underway in Geneva, more than 100 tobacco control groups across the world have begun mounting fresh pressure on the UN agency to finally sever ties with tobacco.
The ILO severing ties with the tobacco industry would put an end to its current partnership with Japan Tobacco International which ends this December.
"If the ILO wants to live up to its mission of promoting human and labour rights, the decision should be an easy one: end the current funding relationship with Japan Tobacco International and reject all future tobacco industry funding," Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement to PREMIUM TIMES Thursday.
"Tobacco companies that spread death and disease across the globe should have no place in the ILO, or any reputable organisation."
Tobacco companies are said to remain the single greatest obstacle to curbing the global tobacco epidemic that kills more than seven million people yearly, according to the World Health Organisation.
In a joint statement signed by the CTFK and over 100 other tobacco control advocacy groups, the ILO was urged to stop accepting funding from the tobacco industry, including corporations profiting from tobacco as well as ancillary groups that receive tobacco industry funds.
"The ILO's acceptance of funding from the tobacco industry undermines the ILO's obligations as a UN entity," read the statement dated October 30.
"Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC makes clear that the tobacco industry's interests are inherently in conflict with those of public health and, therefore, the industry cannot participate in setting or implementing public health policy.
"This is the backbone of the FCTC, without which implementation of the treaty cannot succeed."
The groups further stated that the ILO risks tarnishing its reputation and the effectiveness of its work if it chooses to continue accepting funding from the tobacco industry.
"Such financial 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' rights to organise trade unions and engage in collective bargaining."
The ILO has faced repeated calls to protect its work from the tobacco industry and adopt guidelines in accordance with Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
However, on three occasions - March 2017, November 2017, and March 2018 - when the issue was on the agency's agenda, it had failed to hold a vote.
In June, the ILO's contract with the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation, an organisation perceived as a tobacco industry front group, expired.
But the partnership with Japan Tobacco International, which currently operates in Brazil, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia; continues till December.
In March this year, during the ILO governing body's 332nd session, the African group led by Uganda backed the ILO to continue receiving funds from Big Tobacco.
The African group's position has largely remained unchanged despite concerns that the ILO-Big Tobacco partnership focuses on the cycle of poverty of tobacco farmers and neglects to address tobacco industry practices such as unfair contracts, collusion over leaf prices, and inflation of the costs of farm inputs.
At the recently concluded Conference of Parties in Geneva in early October, 181 member states called upon parties to the WHO FCTC to "promote tobacco control policy coherence in the governing bodies of the relevant IGOs, including ILO."