Report reveals tobacco scandal behind greenwash

One of the world's biggest tobacco companies has been hiding the damage it does to health, development and the environment behind a mask of "corporate social responsibility", according to a report.

Pressure groups say companies like BAT hide their environmental and social shortcomings behind a façade of greenwashed truths. Copyright: Mike J Wells / ASH / Friends of the Earth

Pressure groups say companies like BAT hide their environmental and social shortcomings behind a façade of greenwashed truths. Copyright: Mike J Wells / ASH / Friends of the Earth

British American Tobacco (BAT) faces these accusations after a group of charities released a report based on internal BAT memos, emails and letters that questions whether shareholders should trust what the company says.

By using extracts of internals communications between members of the tobacco company, the report BAT in its Own Words shows how it hid behind a façade of social and environmental responsibility:

  • Top BAT executives fought to block the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), and the company used support for AIDS prevention in African 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), using scientific evidence from research supported by the tobacco industry to undermine WHO research into nicotine addiction and the health impacts of second hand smoke
  • BAT tried to use codes of conduct, self-regulatory bodies, public reporting and coordinated corporate giving programmes a tactics to pre-empt higher taxes, tobacco advertising bans and restrictions on smoking in public places

    BAT currently makes profits of over £2.7 billion each year from a 15% share of the world tobacco market.

    As about five million people die from tobacco-related diseases annually, the company's 300 brands of cigarettes sold in 180 countries could be causing up to three-quarters of a million premature deaths every year.

    Friends of the Earth (FoE), Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and Christian Aid, who helped to compile the report, said that the report showed why large companies, and especially those operating in industries producing hazardous products, should not be left to regulate themselves.

    "Companies like BAT will not act in the best interests of society or the environment unless legislation forces them to do so," FoE Director Tony Juniper warned.

    The coalition has called on the UK Government to reform company law so that all UK-based companies are accountable for their social and environmental impacts, wherever they operate in the world, and to back new international standards to govern corporate behaviour.

    "Tobacco firms like BAT hid behind glossy reports and boast of CSR, but this report shows the cynicism and deceit behind the public face," ASH director Deborah Arnott commented. "It should be read by decision makers, campaigners and health professionals in every country where BAT seeks sales."

    "When they enter developing countries in search of new markets, they come with a smile, a handshake and an open cheque book, but when they leave, they leave behind nothing but a trail of addiction, misery and death."

    The BAT director responsible for the company policy on CSR is former Tory Health Secretary, Ken Clarke.

    By Jane Kettle

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