Archived press release
Press & Media

Shareholders attending British American Tobacco's AGM in London on Thursday (28th April) will be asked whether they can trust the company, following the publication of a new report highlighting how the world's second largest tobacco company hides the damage it causes to health, development and the environment behind a mask of "corporate social responsibility" [1].

The report, "BAT in its Own Words", published by Christian Aid, Friends of the Earth and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) uses internal BAT memos, emails and letters to question whether shareholders should trust what the company says.

The report shows how, behind the faade of social and environmental responsibility:

  • top BAT executives fought to block the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). BAT used support for AIDS prevention in Africa to try to win political influence and "relegate" tobacco as a health issue.
  • BAT campaigned to try to discredit research from the World Health Organisation (WHO). It used scientific evidence from research supported by the tobacco industry to undermine WHO research into nicotine addiction and the health impacts of secondhand smoke.
  • BAT tried to use codes of conduct, self-regulatory bodies, public reporting and coordinated corporate giving programmes as tactics to pre-empt higher taxes, tobacco advertising bans and restrictions on smoking in public places.
  • Key examples of quotes from BAT internal documents are given in Note 4 of this release

BAT makes profits of more than £2.7 billion a year from a 15 per cent share of the world tobacco market. As about 5 million people die from tobacco-related diseases every year, BAT's 300 brands of cigarettes sold in 180 countries could be causing up to three-quarters of a million premature deaths. The BAT Director responsible for the companies' policy on corporate social responsibility is Ken Clarke MP, former Tory Health Secretary.

Friends of the Earth, ASH, and Christian Aid said the report shows why companies - especially those operating in industries producing hazardous products - should not be left to regulate themselves. The organisations are calling on the UK Government to reform company law so that all UK-based companies are accountable for their social and environmental impacts wherever in the world they operate [3] and to back new international standards to govern corporate behaviour.

Friends of the Earth Director Tony Juniper said:

"This report exposes how companies which have something to hide use Corporate Social Responsibility to deflect attention and discourage regulation. But such CSR should clearly be treated with a pinch of salt. Companies like BAT will not act in the best interests of society or the environment unless legislation forces them to do so. That is why the Company Law Reform Bill due to be introduced in the new Parliament represents such an important opportunity for better regulation."

ASH Director Deborah Arnott said:

"Tobacco firms like BAT hide behind glossy reports and boast of Corporate Social Responsibility. But this report shows the cynicism and deceit behind the public face. It should be read by decision-makers, campaigners and health professionals in every country where BAT seeks sales. Companies like BAT offer the ultimate devil's bargain. When they enter developing countries in search of new markets, they come with a smile a handshake and an open cheque book. But they leave behind nothing but a trail of addiction, misery and death."

Christian Aid Director Dr Daleep Mukarji said:

"BAT and many of its shareholders are based in Britain and it is in this country that many of the financial benefits of BAT's irresponsibility are reaped. "We cannot wash our hands of the impact companies such as BAT have on poor countries whose regulations are weaker than ours. Our Government must enact new laws to hold such companies to account wherever they work."

Notes

[1] The report is draws on internal BAT documents, which are stored at the company's depository in Guildford but are available for scrutiny following the tobacco industry's 1998 legal settlement with the State of Minnesota in the United States. These were accessed with assistance from researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

[2] BAT's AGM is held at 11am at the Mermaid Theatre, Puddle Dock, Blackfriars EC4V 3DB

[3] For more information see www.corporate-responsibility.org

[4] Key quotes from internal BAT papers include (page numbers given refer to report):

"`The recent award to BAT's Managing Director in Hungary demonstrates the group's sympathetic handling of local aspirations. Among the projects are a clinic for the diagnosis of disease; accommodation for the homeless, as well as arts and educational projects. For BAT, such programmes not only win allies in local markets but open the doors of politicians and regulators' (page 13).

After BAT's 1992 donation of HK$300,000 to repair the Haizhou Bridge in the Guangzhou province of China "[this is] the sort of gesture to which officialdom will be obligated, and can benefit 555 and BAT more ways than advertising alone" (page 13)

"Support of growers [tobacco farmers in developing countries] will be invaluable in our continued battle with critics of the industry. Indeed we have already used them to help us brief both delegates to the WHA and to the FAO. The only hope of them being able to operate effectively is with funding help." (page 16)

"The ITGA [International Tobacco Growers Association] agreed to support fully a proposal for a pan African aids conference …. The ITGA is going to present what their grower associations have been doing to support government and NGO efforts in combating AIDS in Africa and through that highlight the importance of tobacco to the economy while relegating it as an issue in the health priorities of these countries. The idea is to use the forum to challenge and ridicule the WHO convention." (page 17)

Although BAT claims to "proactively promote juvenile prevention smoking campaigns in cooperation with the Government" it wants to ensure that "early progress would be measured via end-market activities and campaigns rather than any reduction in under-age smoking". (page 20)

A senior BAT executive described CSR as offering "air cover from criticism while improvements are being made. Essentially it provides a degree of publicly endorsed amnesty".(page 28)

BAT tried to get round South Africa's tough new laws on tobacco advertising by tactics including the recruitment of stylish young people as "Brand Amplifiers" driving Lucky Strike Volkswagens.

"Rumours were generated through a combination of Brand Amplifiers `leaking out' information to a carefully selected few contacts and through pre-event communications materials".

"BAT in its Own Words" is available to media at
www.ash.org.uk/html/conduct/pdfs/bat2005.pdf (PDF)


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Published by Friends of the Earth Trust