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Tobacco production 'breaches human rights laws’

Government human rights organisation tells tobacco giant to ‘stop selling tobacco’

Mark Gould

Friday, 26 May 2017

After completing a collaboration with multi-national tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI) to develop a “human rights implementation plan” for the company, the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) concluded that immediately stopping the sale and marketing of tobacco is the only way for tobacco companies to uphold basic human rights.

PMI approached DIHR, a quasi-state body, last year, to collaborate on a plan for the company. The DIHR was given access to the corporation to assess PMI's "value chain" - the set of activities that a firm operating in a specific industry performs in order to deliver a valuable product or service for the market.

Following DIHR’s completion of their work, they concluded:

"Tobacco is deeply harmful to human health, and there can be no doubt that the production and marketing of tobacco is irreconcilable with the human right to health. For the tobacco industry, the [United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights] therefore require the cessation of the production and marketing of tobacco."

Allan Lerberg Jørgensen, department director, Human Rights and Development with the DIHR, stated they hoped their "input will enable PMI to better understand how the corporate responsibility to respect human rights applies to their business and take the necessary action."

Anti-smoking group Ash and campaign group Unfairtobacco welcomed the DIHR statement. Laurent Huber, from Ash USA, said: "Ash and our allies strongly agree with DIHR that the sale of cigarettes is irreconcilable with human rights. The necessary action that DIHR references is clear: if PMI is serious about human rights, it should stop producing, marketing and selling products that kill their consumers."

Laura Graen, from Unfairtobacco, said: "As early as 1954, then PMI vice president George Weissman said that 'If we had any thought or knowledge that in any way we were selling a product harmful to consumers, we would stop business tomorrow'. The DIHR assessment is just the most recent reminder of their promise. We expect PMI to finally stop selling cigarettes immediately."

Both groups said that for PMI to continue producing and marketing cigarettes directly conflicts with development and human rights objectives. “Tobacco corporations not only sell a defective product that kills half of its consumers, but they also have a long history of pressuring governments to block and delay lifesaving regulations, thus costing the world millions of lives and billions of dollars every year.” 

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