Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark says it was a "serious oversight" a cigarette company was able to win a World Business Development Award, which are supported by the UN agency she heads.

Clark, now the head of the United Nations Development Programme, has been slammed for presenting ITC, India's largest cigarette maker, with a World Business Development Award late last night.

The company received the World Business Council for Sustainable Development's highest prize for improving the environment and removing poverty.

In a statement, Ms Clark said she was shocked to learn ITC - formerly the Indian Tobacco Company - had been given an award.


"I have worked tirelessly throughout my career to achieve a smoke free society in New Zealand, and was thus, shocked to learn that a World Business Development Award, supported by UNDP, was given to a company which derives a substantial proportion of its profits from tobacco," she said.

"Unfortunately the criteria for the World Business Development Awards did not exclude projects implemented by companies from certain sectors like tobacco.

"This has clearly been a serious oversight.

"UNDP is reviewing its rules and regulations to ensure that an incident like this never happens again. UNDP will not participate in these awards in the future unless companies like this are excluded.

"I retain my strong commitment to anti-tobacco policies and will continue to fight for the health and well-being of citizens in New Zealand and around the world."

Columnist Pranay Lal, writing for India's Daily News and Analysis, described the award as a "travesty of justice".

"It [ITC] needs to clear forests and fields to grow tobacco, requires chemicals to ensure that the tobacco plant is free of pathogens, and trees to be hacked to cure the tobacco (one kilogram of tobacco needs roughly eight kilos of dry fuel wood), add more than 4000 undisclosed chemicals to make the cigarette addictive, and top this with glossy packaging of paper, cardboard and plastic, which we see littered on the streets and choking waterways.

"In addition, ITC's factories have over-extracted water and polluted rivers," Lal wrote.

"What is tragic is that Helen Clark, a responsible prime minister and wife of a respected public health expert could not have given this award in New Zealand or any other developed country."