UN Global Compact Shows Leadership by Dropping Tobacco Industry Members

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Sep. 12 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) today announced that it would bar tobacco companies and any other organization that derives revenue from the production or manufacturing of tobacco products from participating in the initiative. Today’s announcement from the UNGC is a positive step for global public health because it prevents tobacco companies from burnishing their public image through association with credible organizations like the United Nations.

The announcement properly places the tobacco industry in shameful company. The only businesses in the world now banned from UNGC participation are those associated with the production of landmines, chemical, nuclear and biological weapons; businesses subject to a UN sanction; businesses blacklisted by the UN Procurement Office for ethical reasons; and tobacco companies (see our list of companies banned from UNGC participation effective October 15).

The UNGC is the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative and encourages companies to align strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption –a mandate that has been abused by companies like Philip Morris International to paint itself as a socially responsible business. The new ban reflects the horrible reality of the deadly products sold and aggressively marketed by tobacco companies: Tobacco use is the world’s leading cause of preventable death and is projected to claim one billion lives this century unless countries take strong action to prevent it.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids applauds the UNCG’s leadership in making this decision. At the same time, it remains crucial that the UNGC take any necessary additional steps to remove all associations or organizations representing the tobacco industry from the initiative – including from its board of directors. Currently the UNGC board of directors includes the president of the Indonesian Global Compact Network, who also serves on a board committee at the Indonesian subsidiary of British American Tobacco, according to the UNGC.

Along with the UNGC, institutions throughout the United Nations system should adopt policies to insulate themselves from the influence of the tobacco industry. Such policies would be in line with the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a public health treaty that obligates its 181 parties to implement strong tobacco control measures and ensure that public health policies are free from the interference of tobacco companies.

The UNGC announcement should serve as an example to governments, other businesses, and public-private partnerships currently engaged with tobacco companies. Around the world, tobacco companies deceptively use a wide range of tactics to legitimize themselves as “responsible corporate citizens” in order to build goodwill among the public and policymakers, all with the goal of selling more of their deadly products. Unless more organizations act to isolate tobacco companies by refusing their membership or participation, the tobacco industry will continue to wield enormous influence around the world, undermine life-saving public health policies and recruit new smokers into a lifetime of addiction.

 

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