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Many readers will have been nauseated by reports generated from the publication of British American Tobacco’s (BAT’s) first “social report”, part of its massive self rehabilitation exercise. Even the mere linking of a tobacco company’s name to the concept of corporate social responsibility in a glossy document, while absurd to most people, seems enough to fool others into thinking it has changed its ways. On all the issues that really matter, BAT’s social report is either cosmetic, evasive or deceitful, as Clive Bates of the UK’s Action on Smoking and Health commented. “What is shocking is the gullibility of some parts of the ethical investment and corporate social responsibility community. They have blindly lapped up the glossy report and soothing PR without bothering to test if they are in any way related to BAT’s real-world operations.”
One truly emetic response appeared in the UK, BAT’s home country, from the lofty sounding Institute of Business Ethics. An entire issue of its publication Ethical Performance was devoted to a company focus on BAT, most of it reading as if penned by the company’s own PR staff. Page after designer polished page of lavishly illustrated articles, under headings such as Safer products, Supply chain monitoring, and Environment, proffered articles with equally positive and misleading titles—Playing it safe, Responsible production, and Greening tobacco, respectively.
How very reassuring, then, to find that in Fiji, a country so small that any big tobacco company might be tempted to think it could buy its respectability there with the greatest of ease, BAT got possibly the most robust and appropriate response of any in the world. Health minister Pita Nacuva cancelled a meeting with BAT officials, due to include non-government organisations and church representatives, accusing the company of unscrupulous advertising and promotional activities. “I would like to know whether this implies that selling death and diseases is legitimate,” he mused, a tad rhetorically, one suspects.
BAT’s local panjandrum described the cancellation as “disappointing”—well, he would, wouldn’t he? Congratulations minister; you are a model for public health colleagues worldwide.