UN labor agency shelves decision to end Big Tobacco ties

Published 11:12 am Thursday, November 9, 2017

GENEVA  — In an embarrassing mixup, the U.N. labor agency says it has shelved a decision on ending its ties with Big Tobacco, correcting its own statement earlier Thursday indicating it would cut ties to an industry faulted for major health risks.

International Labor Organization spokesman Hans von Rohland cited a mistake in which the “tripartite” U.N. agency — bringing together business, labor groups and governments — had previously said it would stop taking funds from the tobacco industry and end their public-private partnerships.

“We sent you the wrong version of the decision taken by the ILO Governing Body on ILO cooperation with the tobacco industry,” von Rohland said in an e-mail to reporters. “The ILO has not at this stage made a decision to end cooperation with the tobacco industry.”

“We are very sorry for this error in transmission,” he added.

Instead of the four-point decision initially sent to reporters, the agency issued a revised, one-point decision saying its governing body had instructed its director-general to present an “integrated ILO strategy to address decent work deficits in the tobacco sector” at its next meeting in March.

Anti-tobacco groups say the ILO is the last U.N. agency to retain ties to the tobacco business.

The Geneva-based body has struggled to calibrate its mandate to help ensure proper working conditions, particularly in an industry linked to child labor, amid a broader U.N. fight against the health risks of tobacco use.

The ILO has received over $15 million through partnerships that aim to fight child labor in the industry. They include deals with Japan Tobacco International as well as with a nonprofit group that is linked to some of the world’s biggest tobacco companies.