ECLT rebuts FCA assertions that Swiss Foundation encourages child labour practices

For immediate release

For immediate release

30 October 2017 – Geneva – The public debate regarding collaboration between the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the tobacco industry in the fight against child labour, in advance of the Organization’s 331st Governing Body Session, has sparked strong feelings and discordant opinions.

The ECLT Foundation welcomes and, indeed, encourages the objective and factual examination of all relevant points raised, as the decision at hand has the potential to significantly affect the lives of over 40 million farmers and their families in tobacco-growing communities worldwide. Further, the Foundation fully supports the freedom of expression of interested stakeholders as being essential to foster sustainable social change and support on-going reform, both of which are in the public interest.

Such freedom of expression and examinations are fundamental for rational and informed debate, which is professional and free of emotive behaviours, in order to ensure a legitimate decision-making process. They serve as a check and balance system to control the unlawful publication of misleading facts, untruths and hearsay, which could be used by parties attempting to skew the narrative around eliminating child labour.

Consequently, the ECLT Foundation draws upon its core values of transparency, integrity, accountability and sustainability, to shape any participation in the discussion.

Unfortunately, if baseless and false accusations are used as a tool to manipulate public opinion, it is ultimately the vulnerable children and families in tobacco-growing communities worldwide who are put at risk.

The public assertions, therefore, made by the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA) concerning the ECLT Foundation in its online article "ILO amongst last UN Agencies accepting money from 'Big Tobacco'" dated 25 October 2017, are false and devoid of up-to-date evidence.  Given the lack of factual references provided in support of these public allegations, it is the legal obligation of the FCA to prove the veracity of said allegations, or to retract the article and remove it from the public domain.

Specifically, the ECLT Foundation notes that the FCA has failed to provide any credible, independently-corroborated evidence to support their assertion that, “Reports have repeatedly claimed that ECLT’s work aims to keep farmers dependent on aid from the tobacco industry to avoid them abandoning the sector.(sic)” ECLT strongly rejects this false accusation, which is lacking evidence and solely supported by references from unnamed third parties.

In addition, the separate assertion that, as an independent Swiss Foundation, "ECLT allows the tobacco industry to promote a positive public image while continuing the practices that cause labour exploitation in the first place," is both insulting to the work that the Foundation has carried out since 2000, and again, is untrue. Having reached over 650,000 children and families in tobacco-growing communities since 2011 alone, working in partnership to find collaborative solutions for the systemic causes of child labour, the ECLT Foundation stands by the results of its work. The ECLT Foundation reiterates that the FCA is obliged to prove their allegations are true, or retract them and withdraw the statement from the public domain.

In this debate, the stakes for millions of children and their families are high, and the subsequent decision has significant potential to directly impact the realisation of their human and legal rights, including to escape poverty and other forms of exploitation and to secure decent conditions in which to work and live with dignity.

The ECLT Foundation, therefore, shares the FCA’s view that eliminating child labour is “of utmost importance and a goal that must be pursued.”

For the tens of thousands of children and families who are benefiting from ECLT interventions and public-private partnerships working to help keep children in school and out of fields, it is imperative that the debate regarding collaboration towards eliminating child labour remain fair, fact-based and focused on the needs of the rights holders. Statements made by any actor, including the FCA, must be either truthful, or immediately retracted.

The ECLT Foundation remains committed to encouraging a public debate that is open, transparent, and accountable to the children and their families, who are ultimately impacted by this and other key international decisions.

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