The US-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has joined more than 100 public health and sustainable development groups around the world in calling on the International Labour Organisation to sever cut ties with the tobacco industry.
The ILO is the only UN agency that continues to receive money from the tobacco industry.
Since 2002, the agency has received more than Sh1.5 billion ($15 million) from Japan Tobacco International and groups linked to some of the world's biggest tobacco companies for "charitable partnerships" aimed at reducing child labour in tobacco fields.
But activists and civil society groups have insisted that tobacco-funded programmes had little impact in improving workers conditions.
Tobacco companies also use membership in respected organisations like the ILO to portray themselves as responsible corporate citizens when they are the root cause of a global tobacco epidemic that is projected to kill one billion people worldwide this century.
CTFK said tobacco companies continue to aggressively market their deadly products to children and other vulnerable populations around the world, to mislead the public about the health risks of their products and to attack nearly every effort to reduce tobacco use and save lives.
“Tobacco companies that spread death and disease across the globe should have no place in a UN agency, or any responsible organisation,” Mark Hurley, the international director of tobacco industry campaigns at the CTFK, said in a statement.
A recent report supported by the organisation found that tobacco firms in Kenya deceptively target primary school children in marketing their products.
The tactics used to promote cigarettes included advertising at children's eye-level, products sold near sweets or soda and advertising or product displays outside stores.
The report, Big Tobacco Tiny Targets, was launched two months ago by the Nairobi-based International Institute for Legislative Affairs and was produced with the technical assistance of the CTFK.
The World Health Organisation administers an international tobacco control treaty called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which states that the tobacco industry’s interests are in clear conflict with public health goals.
“As long as the ILO allows tobacco industry members, it will be out of step with the 181 parties to the FCTC and other UN agencies,” Hurley said.
“If the ILO is to live up to its promise of promoting rights at work, encouraging decent employment opportunities and enhancing social protection, the decision should be an easy one: The governing body cannot continue its existing relationships with the tobacco-industry dominated group, Eliminating Child Labor in Tobacco-Growing or with Japan Tobacco International. Both relationships are formalized by contracts with the ILO set to expire in June and December 2018 respectively,” he added.
Last month, the ILO chief said he hoped the UN body would decide whether to cut ties with the tobacco industry by the end of the year.
"We will be returning to this issue when our governing body next meets in November, ... and hopefully we can come up with an agreement at that point," Guy Ryder said.
"It's a difficult question," he acknowledged, adding "I don't think it's any secret we have a divided opinion in our governing body.