Friday, 26 August 2011

British American Tobacco and Corporate Social Responsibility: damned if they do ...

Big news: companies use corporate social responsibility programmes to gain influence in political services and disguise the harm they do to society as a whole. In this study that is supported by Cancer Research UK and others the history of this industry's corporate responsibility programme is described in some detail.

I don't have any quarrel with the idea that companies undertake Corporate Responsibility for the purpose of gaining influence with powerful people. It seems the obvious thing for companies to do. Depending on who you listen to, all companies probably do damage at some level, whether to the environment, sea life, wildlife, the air, whatever. Companies also provide employment (in theory anyway) and seek to persuade that their activity does the economy and people more good than harm.

It takes a particularly vivid stretch of the imagination to conclude that only British American Tobacco has any ulterior motive behind its corporate social responsibility activities. The conclusion should be that this is normal corporate behaviour. Instead we get this:
In a detailed case study that involved searching BAT documents made publicly available as a result of litigation in the US (for the period, 1998-2000), the authors illustrate how the company used its corporate social responsibility programme in its dialogue with policymakers to influence the priorities of public and elected officials in the UK, encourage them to take notice of proposals that best suited the company (for example, to make regulation voluntary), and to revise the Government's concerns about whether the industry could be trusted to work in partnership. 
As usual, tobacco interests are endowed with all the evils of the market capitalism and every other industry in the world is ignored. The only corporate interest whose influence this study seeks to curb is the tobacco industry ... that is to say, apart from the other big bogeymen, alcohol and food. From the study itself:
This last point may help to explain why companies from other industrial sectors—specifically food and alcohol—are currently enjoying greater success in influencing public health policy in the UK through the government's Public Health Responsibility Deal [126].
This is really nothing to do with companies getting undue influence. It's about Cameron's love of playing with big business guys (but let's ignore all the other rich boys' games except for alcohol, food and tobacco). And it's about the implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
Finally, in highlighting the political dimensions of CSR, this paper underlines the importance of parties to the FCTC acting on the Guidelines for implementation of Article 5.3 [134]. Article 5.3 was specifically introduced to protect health policies from tobacco industry influence [135]. Its impact depends on governments implementing the Guidelines that comprise a number of Guiding Principles and Recommendations [135]. ... [etc]
If this study were really about corporate influence getting out of hand I would have some sympathy, but it's not: relying on industry papers made public during court action, it presents British American Tobacco manipulating government opinion with successful CSR campaigns, as though to suggest that only the tobacco industry were capable of such underhanded dealing.  No other industry is studied by way of comparison.

It does this in an attempt to justify further the aims of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control as well as to criticise the UK's Public Health Responsibility Deal. It is policy-driven research, as usual. (Conflicts of interest are noted.)

1 comment:

daveatherton said...

This was my comment on PLOS.

The first point I would like to make is that any paper that incorporates Dr. Anna Gilmore requires the closest of scrutiny. Secondly as you can see in my competing I am entirely unfunded and unexpensed by tobacco companies and my opinions are truly my own. In researching this paper Dr. Gavin Fooks was snooping around my LinkedIn page no doubt trying to find something that ties me to Big Tobacco. He found nothing of course.

Fooks makes a great play of FCTC 5.3 which has an interesting sub clause 11.

"The measures recommended in these guidelines aim at protecting against interference not only by the tobacco industry but also, as appropriate, by organizations and individuals that work to further the interests of the tobacco industry."

So the WHO not only wishes to exclude tobacco companies
from the democratic process but more importantly people like myself who are voters and taxpayers. This is unacceptable, undemocratic and even authoritarian.

Are these the 'high' standards we expect from the anti tobacco movement?

Finally the anti tobacco movement's main obsession with big tobacco reminds me of children who think there are monsters in the wardrobe