As British American Tobacco celebrates another year of deadly profits, groups around globe call for government action on bribery, espionage
LONDON –Today, as British American Tobacco (BAT) held its annual general meeting (AGM), groups on three continents campaigned to demand it be held accountable for recent allegations of bribery and espionage across Africa.
The protests come just months after a BBC investigation of whistleblower accounts exposed a widespread campaign by BAT to thwart tobacco control policies by bribing governments and to undermine competition in at least five countries in Africa. Today’s demands came in the form of actions in the UK, Kenya, Nigeria and Chile to demand governments investigate BAT’s practices. Advocates also protested outside the AGM in London.
“While BAT’s executives and shareholders toasted to deadly profits and generations of addiction, people around the world gathered to demand the corporation is held accountable for its abuses,” said Cloe Franko, Senior Organizer at Corporate Accountability International. “With BAT already under investigation in Kenya for bribery and authorities in the U.K and U.S. considering investigations, shareholders should be nervous about their investment.”
While the corporation performed better than its competition, its results were still lackluster, reporting an only slight increase in profits and larger drops in both sales and revenues. Across this deadly industry, executives and shareholders are facing ever-increasing headwinds as the measures of the global tobacco treaty take hold around the globe.
“In Kenya, likely because of BAT, it took us 15 years to pass and implement our tobacco control law—think of the lives that have been taken in that time!” said Samuel Ochieng, Director of Consumer Information Network in Kenya. “Now that we have irrefutable evidence of bribery,” he added, “we will be proud when Kenya is the first country to investigate BAT and hold it accountable.”
Already, the accounts of whistleblower, Paul Hopkins, and news investigations to follow have prompted inquiries and investigations in Kenya and the UK. In the U.S. ten members of Congress sent a letter demanding the Department of Justice investigate BAT under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
In Kenya, where Hopkins was based, public health and advocacy group, Consumer Information Network, staged an alternative AGM to expose the irony of BAT shareholders and executives celebrating the corporation in London while BAT is being investigated in Kenya for corruption and espionage. And, in Nigeria, groups called for an investigation despite not being implicated so far in the scandal, noting the unlikeliness such abuses are constrained by borders.
Among the revelations was at least one bribe to a government representative from Burundi to represent BAT’s interests at a World Health Organization global tobacco treaty meeting. There were multiple bribes to politicians and policymakers to gain access to and obstruct tobacco control policymaking. The bribes ranged from $3,000 to $20,000 and some were even sanctioned by a regional executive.
In November, 180 countries will convene in New Delhi to expand support offered by the agreement to protect tobacco control and public health policy from tobacco industry interference. Additionally, a primary focus of the meetings will be to establish guidance to hold tobacco industry legally liable for its costs to society.