Nearly 200 organisations and individuals from around the world urged the International Labour Organization Monday to stop taking money from tobacco companies and to sever all ties with the industry.
In a letter addressed to ILO's governing body members, a long line of national and non-governmental health and anti-tobacco organisations warned that the ILO risked "tarnishing its reputation and the effectiveness of its work" if it did not cut its ties with the tobacco industry.
The United Nations' labour agency has been slammed for its partnerships with tobacco companies and accused of jeopardising global efforts to regulate tobacco use and reduce the negative health impacts of smoking.
ILO's governing body is set to decide in a few weeks whether to join other UN agencies -- most notably the World Health Organization -- in refusing to engage with the industry.
The ILO has until now justified its ties to the tobacco companies as a way of helping improve the working conditions of the some 60 million people involved in tobacco leaf growing and production worldwide.
The agency has received more than $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 Monday's letter insisted the projects had only "nominal impact" on the practice, and charged that the companies involved were using them "to provide cover for egregious tobacco industry abuse by being carried out jointly with a respectable organisation like the ILO."
Mark Hurley, the head of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids -- one of the organisations behind the letter -- stressed the importance of cutting ties with the industry.
"Tobacco companies use membership in respected organisations like the ILO to portray themselves as responsible corporate citizens, when in fact they are the root cause of a global tobacco epidemic that is projected to kill one billion people worldwide this century," he warned.
ILO's governing body had been scheduled to determine whether or not to continue its tobacco industry partnerships at the beginning of the year, but postponed the decision until its next session, which begins on October 26.
ILO spokesman Has von Roland told AFP the issue would likely not be determined until the end of the session, during the first week of November.