VENTURES AFRICA – Smoking kills. That is the message on the pack of Lucky Strike, one of British American Tobacco’s biggest brands. Irony? Yes. The irony in the message on the pack of cigarette lies in the fact that it “almost always” does not determine its purchase. However, it is the social responsibility of tobacco companies to highlight the lethality of the smoking habit. Put simply: Flaw their product.

British American Tobacco is the second largest tobacco company in world and the most international, with its operations and products in every continent. The company makes high quality tobacco products for millions of consumers round the world and runs a field-to-consumer operation. It is committed to high standards of corporate social responsibility. However, the health concern of BAT’s products in Africa, and over 160 markets in the world, cannot be over-emphasized; it is in lieu of this that authority, the world over, is calling for more enlightenment campaigns than CSR.

In Africa, BAT’s operation covers a wide span. From Egypt to South Africa, West and East Africa, BAT’s presence and products account for a huge percentage (over 90% in many African countries). In Nigeria, BAT products account for over 70% of tobacco consumption. It also opened a manufacturing plant in Oyo State in 2003, employing about 900 people; though most of the cigarettes are sent for export to other West African countries. The trend is similar in across Africa where BAT products are somewhat domineering.

“How much is BAT doing in terms of CSR?”

A tobacco company’s burden is proving its concern for its publics while bidding to sell products that has been proven to kill users.  Over the years, BAT has received some credit for good CSR across Africa, but in most quotas, it has been perceived as simply good PR. In 2001, BAT’s CSR report was greeted with mixed reactions across the African continent. The company’s CSR in Africa is dented by its inconsistencies with practices in developed countries. According to the Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) group, it left unsavoury footprints in fight against child labour and the environment amongst others. Some of these inconsistencies have seen some countries in Africa institute legal action against the company.

For instance, in 2007 the Nigerian government alleged that BAT marketing and advert campaigns were targeting the youth amongst other things. Several states in the country followed suit, taking legal action and seeking payment for future damages in anticipation of tobacco related diseases.

In contrast, BAT won the 2009 Social Enterprise Reports and Awards (SERA) for Best Sustainability Reporting demonstrating that a tobacco company can be responsible and also set high standards of good social conduct. But do awards hide the truth about the tobacco business’ long term effect on health?

How is BAT’s CSR activity investing in the future of the African youth?

To many, the vacuum remains to be filled. Although, BAT should be lauded for its support of initiatives that dissuade youths from smoking, its strategy is quite inconsistent and the effect immeasurable. The argument is that being told “smoking is not for minors” is not only grossly inadequate, but it possibly activates a craving via reverse psychology. That is, it leaves an adult-activity-craving feeling in adolescents which ultimately sabotages the goal.

BAT is actively involved the Nigerian educational sector. Through its Scholarship Scheme and Engineering Artisan Programmes, it reaches out to Nigerian youths. These programmes are part of BAT’s CSR initiatives aimed at empowering the youth.  The scholarship programmed is aimed at promoting skilled manpower development in Nigeria’s Agricultural sector while the Engineering Artisan programme focuses on developing and boosting vocational skills acquisition amongst youths.

But the same BAT organized events in venues across the country (Metro Groove, 2007). The prize was a ticket to attend a groove where BAT supplied cigarettes.

In its 2006/2007 social responsibility report on operations in East Africa, British American Tobacco stated that it supports strong regulations surrounding the sale and promotion of tobacco products. It opined that, for several years it has been inputting to discussions on tobacco control in Kenya and had most recently played a major role as a stakeholder in the development of the Tobacco Control Act, which in summary regulates packaging, places restrictions on public smoking, bans all forms of adverts and restricts stick sales and sales to minor. However, these acts are not consistent throughout the African continent as there are still evidence of sticks sales and sponsorship of youth-centric activities across the continent.

Furthermore, in Uganda, BAT’s inconsistency, although unintentional, in conduct was highlighted by its complaints about the effects of DDT on tobacco. It asked for a delay in the use of DDT while research on its effects was on-going in a country where 70,000 children reportedly die of malaria yearly.  Although BAT apologized for the incident, such practice is somewhat contrary to the BAT code of conduct. Again, this is in contrast with BAT’s much publicized efforts at championing social reporting and the educational media campaign against youths smoking as a part of its commitment to social responsibility in Uganda.

Though the banning of adverts and other forms of promotions has been supported by BAT, some would argue that it does not stop youths from copying a habit which is lethal to say the least. The authorities are not doing enough in their campaign to prevent this. For example, in Egypt, where people under the age of 18 make up a large percentage of the total smoking population,  there is a ban on all forms of adverts, promotion or sponsorship by tobacco companies.  The government also required all tobacco producers and importers to feature anti-smoking photos on cigarette packs from August 2008. But there is still evidence of youths between of the ages of 13-18 years smoking.

In 2007, Rwanda’s Ministry of Health placed a ban on all tobacco adverts and promotional activities. The initiative was specifically designed to dissuade minors. BAT was publicly in support of this. The company also supported Rwanda’s education sector through the donation of computer hardware, revamping university libraries and provision of scholarships to students in universities within the country. They also pledged to continue “corporate giving” in Rwanda therefore boosting their social responsibility image.

Additionally, BAT has continued to support the small and micro enterprise sector in East Africa. For example, the Jua Kali sector in Kenya has benefitted immensely from BAT’s inputs since 1989 and the company has pledged continued support via a series of annual exhibitions throughout the country where Jua Kali tradesmen learn marketing skills and quality control. This initiative has helped boost the sector which is now vibrant, employing 3 million people – this figure roughly translates to 70 per cent of new jobs in Kenya by 2020.

BAT’s work in the sector is however tainted by the fact that Jau Kali is a place where it advertises itself and its brands freely.

BAT vs host communities

In 2005, BAT scooped the FAPRA Award for Corporate Social Responsibility in Nairobi, Kenya. Although there much to be desired. In as much as the tobacco industry is involved in community-level development projects, such as the Agro-forestry Kerio Trade Winds Project in Kenya, a partnership between the community and BAT that aims to “develop tobacco growing activities as an option towards alleviating poverty in line with the government’s poverty alleviation strategy”, the ultimate result is in contradiction with the goal because more tobacco is grown. More cigarettes are produced. More people will smoke. The point is that BAT’s CSR activity should not only go into areas which will ultimately boost the production or sale of tobacco. Although that is not the case, the reasoning is simply etched on the thought of more projects and initiatives focused on enhancing the functionality of communities.

In Zimbabwe,  BAT invested US$6 million in a medical clinic in the capital, Harare for the company’s 400 factory workers in 2002. A local paper reported, “The British American Tobacco Company Zimbabwe should therefore be commended for focusing on the health and well-being of its employees.” It would have been preferable if the hospital was revamped for the general public – like its work with the Health ministry in Zambia which has helped in the fight against malaria.

In South Africa, BAT collaborated with the University of Stellenbosch to build the Agri-Business Place in Cape Town, a project housing small service providers with their own businesses and providing information, resource, referrals and other services to entrepreneurs who want to start, improve or expand a small enterprise. However, its donation of R120, 000 to the University of Cape Town was dubbed controversial. According to the letter of one senior member of the health faculty, the donation – given to fund a two-year scholarship programme – was “tainted money”.

Overall, the commitment of British American Tobacco to corporate social responsibility activities can be mistaken as a ploy to cover tracks of its “legacy of ashes” in Africa’s emerging market. Though its management refutes this; they claim to employ different strategies in tackling CSR commitments in different parts of Africa “…based on the peculiarities of each environment,” Thus, to BAT, “CSR is not about what the management wants to do, but what the stakeholders expect…”

What do the African communities/stakeholders expect? Surely not “corporate giving” when real issues like child labour, environmental degradation and life-claiming diseases lie unattended.

According to a report by ASH, the effect of BAT operations in Africa has had a devastating effect as it surreptitiously employsstrategies, which it “claims to have voluntarily given up using in the UK thirty years ago”, on African soil. Consequently, BAT’s operations have led to the indices below:

-Kenya is now one of the ten heaviest smoking countries in the world.

-According reports by the Kenyan Ministry of Health, up to 15% of Under-15 year olds now smoke and approximately 45%of 18 to 30 year olds.

-About 50% of Ugandan men smoke and according to the 2002 Global Youth Tobacco Survey, smoking rates of13 to 15 year olds top 33% in some parts of Uganda.

 -One in five young Nigerian smokes cigarettes, while the number of young female smokers has dramatically risen since during the 1990s.

-Tobacco use among young people in Malawi is on the rise. In 2005 the Global Youth Tobacco Survey of 13 to15 year-olds found over 19% of boys smoked while the rate among girls had risen to 16% from 10% in 2001.

Thus, despite BAT’s claims of being a “trailblazer for CSR in Africa”, their CSR activities sit “uneasily alongside aggressive cigarette marketing” and promotion. The tobacco company’s CSR work, juxtaposed with the realities in Africa, can be said to have done more improving its image, and weakening an already lose grip most governments across Africa have over tobacco control, then helping to enlighten the Africans about the effects of smoking: BAT engages in “corporate giving” and “community investment” initiatives, while it products simultaneously causes disease, disability and ultimately death.

BAT’s targeting of specific populations such as women, youth, and the poor while engaging in CSR activities, can be said to be a spin which ultimately results in mortgaging the health of smokers and increasing the billions it already makes from its precious and somewhat ignorant African market. Thus, the question remains: is BAT giving enough  to Africa? Do Africans deserve more?

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