WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following multiple reports of widespread and systematic bribery of politicians and policymakers across Central and East Africa by British American Tobacco(BAT), U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) are calling for an immediate investigation of BAT—the world’s second largest publicly-traded tobacco corporation.
In a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the lawmakers argue BAT’s actions may have violated both the Anti-Bribery and the Books and Records provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Additional signatories of the letter include: Sen. Markey (D-MA), Sen. Merkley (D-OR), Sen. Reed (D-RI), Rep. Bass (D-CA), Rep. Tsongas (D-MA), Rep. Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Keating (D-MA) and Rep. Nadler (D-NY).
Since the release of a BBC documentary that first brought attention to BAT’s alleged actions, additional documents have come to light, showing the bribery may be even more widespread. The documents indicate BAT may have paid people off to protect its corporate reputation and cover up scandals like environmental damage caused by a warehouse fire in Uganda, and even engaged in corporate espionage and sabotage of competitor tobacco corporations in Kenya.
“If true, these allegations would demonstrate a deplorable choice by BAT to balloon its profits through bribery at the expense of the health of millions,” said Congressman Lloyd Doggett(D-TX). “Any corporation that enjoys the benefits of our stock exchange must comply with our anti-bribery laws.”
“If true, the allegations lodged against BAT are an affront to public health and United States law,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who sits on the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the FCPA. “The tobacco industry has a long history of placing profits above public health, and these allegations raise clear questions about whether BAT violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – a question DOJ must answer. With tobacco companies exploiting growth opportunities in Africa, actions like BAT’s threaten to undermine the WHO’s global tobacco treaty and condemn the entire continent to generations of smoking, cancer, and preventable death.”
The lawmakers note that, if true, these allegations would show that BAT, which holds a 42 percent share of U.S.-based Reynolds American, Inc., attempted to unduly influence and interfere in the World Health Organization’s global tobacco treaty (to which the U.S. is a signatory) and public health policymaking at the national level throughout Africa.
Tobacco-related disease causes 6 million deaths each year, making tobacco the largest preventable cause of death worldwide. The treaty, which protects over 90 percent of the world’s population, has the potential to save 200 million lives by 2050 if fully implemented.
With the number of adult smokers in Africa projected to grow from 77 million in 2013 to 572 million by 2100, Africa will be the epicenter of the tobacco epidemic if BAT and others are successful in thwarting the immediate implementation of public health policies.
“In the 1990’s, the public health movement exposed Big Tobacco’s lies about nicotine’s addictiveness and tobacco’s links to cancer, sparking a cascade of litigation and U.S. tobacco control policies,” said John Stewart, Deputy Campaigns Director of Corporate Accountability. “This investigation could be the next critical chapter in holding this deadly industry accountable for its abuses, preventing the expansion of the single largest preventable epidemic on the planet.”
Congressman Doggett, one of the lead sponsors of the letter, has a history of taking on Big Tobacco, securing the so-called Doggett Amendment, which ensures taxpayer funds are not used to promote the sale or export of tobacco products.