The article “The Tobacco Industry and Children’s Rights,” authored by van der Eijk et al,1 contains serious inaccuracies and misrepresentations of both past engagement of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) with the tobacco industry and UNICEF’s current advocacy for tobacco control. We were surprised and disappointed that UNICEF was not given any opportunity to respond to the allegations set out in the article before it was published, which would have been standard practice. With this letter, we therefore identify and rebut the most serious of these inaccuracies.
UNICEF’s corporate engagement guidelines, which were developed in 2001, codified a preexisting, organization-wide policy of not accepting funding or entering into partnership with tobacco manufacturers. This position was not revised or loosened in any way in 2003, and revisions to the guidelines in 2011 and 2016 did not soften UNICEF’s longstanding no-funding, no-partnership policy with the tobacco industry.
The authors reference a project document by the Eliminating Child Labor in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT) published in 20032 as evidence of UNICEF’s engagement with ECLT. This document, developed without the involvement or knowledge of UNICEF, references UNICEF in a single sentence, “ILO/IPEC and UNICEF will be performing advisory functions.” UNICEF was not, in fact, involved in this project in an advisory or any other capacity. UNICEF’s interactions with ECLT have been focused on sharing information and increasing awareness about child rights issues related to the industry’s supply chain. This engagement is entirely in line with UNICEF’s corporate engagement guidelines and longstanding programmatic and advocacy work, under which the organization does not refrain from sharing information, promoting tools, or making technical recommendations that may be important to identify, prevent, address, and remediate child rights violations resulting from specific business practices.
The authors’ allegations that UNICEF received funding from tobacco manufacturers are also unfounded. UNICEF did not receive any funding from Philip Morris International (PMI) or Japan Tobacco International (JTI).
UNICEF is actively engaged with our government partners around the world in efforts to reduce tobacco-related harm to children. These efforts, in countries including, for example, Bhutan, Brazil, Burundi, China, Mongolia, Namibia, South Africa, Thailand, Uganda, and Zambia, are primarily focused on substance abuse prevention and education programming. UNICEF has also been an active member of the United Nations’ Interagency Task Force on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, which works on tobacco control at the global level, since the Task Force was created in 2013.
Because UNICEF, unfortunately, was offered no opportunity to comment on the article before it was published and thus had no opportunity to correct these inaccuracies in advance, I must ask that you publish this letter in its entirety.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST: The author has indicated he has no potential conflicts of interest to disclose.