The least responsible company in the world?
LONDON (UK) – British American Tobacco has been slammed for its appalling health, environmental and development record in advance of its AGM today.
A new report – “BAT’s Big Wheeze” – has been published by health campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), leading development charity Christian Aid, and the environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth. The report is also backed by NGOs from countries damaged by BAT’s bad business behaviour.
The report looks at BAT’s record in Britain , Brazil , Kenya , Nigeria , Pakistan , Russia and Uganda . It accuses BAT of:
- Making tobacco products which cause about 750,000 premature deaths around the world every year. Five million people die from smoking in the world each year. BAT has a 15% share of the total tobacco market and sells 792 billion cigarettes a year under more than 300 brand names. By the year 2020 the number of deaths from smoking is expected to double to ten million. Seven million of these will be in developing countries where health services are already under-resourced and over-stretched.
- Damaging the health of rural communities in Brazil and Kenya through encouraging the use of dangerous pesticides, in many cases without proper protection.
- Exploiting tobacco growers in Nigeria , through high prices for loaned materials and low prices for their products.
- Flooding Pakistan and Russia with advertising and sponsorship designed to addict a new generation of young people to cigarettes.
- Encouraging forest destruction in Uganda , through heavy use of dry wood to cure processed tobacco.
The report also reveals how BAT recently faced legal action in the US for money laundering and racketeering, and how in Australia it was recently found guilty of document shredding. BAT also continues to lie about the health effects of cigarette smoke, for example claiming that “there is no convincing evidence that ETS (environmental tobacco smoke) exposure genuinely increases the risk of non-smokers developing lung cancer or heart disease”.
Meanwhile BAT has reported operating profits for 2003 of £2.8 billion. BAT directors are paid huge sums for their activities: Chief Executive Officer Martin Broughton receives £2.4 million a year, and top Tory politician Kenneth Clarke MP is paid £125,000 a year for chairing the company’s committee on Corporate Social Responsibility, and for other duties including helping to develop new markets in countries such as Vietnam . Mr Broughton claims that “corporate social responsibility is integral to our approach to the management of our business globally”, a claim the report describes as “greenwash, bluewash, and hogwash”. Mr Clarke claims that “BAT is not about window dressing”, but the report states that “in Nigeria, Uganda, Pakistan, Kenya, Brazil and Russia, BAT advertises itself as a good corporate citizen, while aggressively marketing its cigarettes to the youth and female market, failing to look after its farmers and failing in its environmental stewardship responsibility. BAT … persists in spending huge amounts on public relations while failing its basic responsibilities to society and the environment.”
The report quotes experts and campaigners from around the world, who condemn BAT for its business practices. Dr Margaret Mungherera, President of the Uganda Medical Association says:
“One thing I’d say to BAT shareholders is, it is a pity they can sit there and gain enormous economic benefits while BAT is selling cigarettes that are killing so many people”.
Akinbode Oluwafeme of Friends of the Earth Nigeria says that:
“BAT shouldn’t come to Nigeria and do what it can’t do in the UK . We don’t want this tobacco company to come here and addict our children so that its shareholders will have more dividends.”
Dr Vladimir Levshin of the Russian Cancer Research Centre says that:
“Despite the enormous human toll caused by tobacco, the efforts to control it are an uphill battle in Russia , with tiny groups of people challenging enormous corporate interests, with minimal or no interest from Government.”
Professor Peter Odhiambo of Kenya ‘s National Tobacco Free Initiative Committee says that:
“Multinationals are lethal, unethical and corrupting … they think they can arm twist Third World governments with threats of labour unrest and loss of revenue”.
Allah Rakha, a 13 year old who lives in Islamabad , Pakistan , has now been smoking for nearly a year. He says that:
“I started to smoke because the ads show the hero to be so powerful and clever that he saves all his friends. I wish I could be one like him.”
The report demands that the UK Government should change the law to require companies and their directors to take account of social and environmental issues in all their activities. A new law on corporate accountability would require BAT to report on the negative impacts of their activities and products around the world, place legal duties on directors to take all reasonable steps to reduce these impacts, and enable affected communities abroad to seek compensation for health damage, human rights violations and environmental impacts in the UK courts.
Deborah Arnott, Director of ASH, Dr Daleep Mukarji, Director of Christian Aid, Tony Juniper, Director of Friends of the Earth, comment in the introduction to the report that:
“While genuine moves by UK companies to improve their social and environmental standards are welcome, the difference between the claims BAT makes in its social reports and its true impacts are stark… The bitter truth is that BAT is one of the least socially responsible companies in the world”.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Ian Willmore (ASH) +44-20 7739 5902 (w) +44-7887641344 (m)
Andrew Pendleton (Christian Aid) +44-20 7620 4444 (w) +44-7720 813865 (m)
Craig Bennett (Friends of the Earth) +44-20 7566 1667 (w) +44-7720 147280 (m)
Contact details also available for:
Friends of the earth Nigeria,
Journalist Action for Tobacco Control (Nigeria),
Department of Rural Socioeconomic Studies (Curitiba-PR, Brazil),
SocialNEEDS Network (Kenya),
the Network for Consumer Protection (Pakistan)
and the Russian Cancer Research Center.
– ISDN line available –