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The unctuous efforts of British American Tobacco (BAT) to ingratiate itself with the government in Sri Lanka, presumably in the hope of forestalling effective measures that might damage its near monopoly market there, have paid off handsomely. Its local subsidiary, Ceylon Tobacco Company (CTC), has been named one of the 10 best corporate citizens of 2007.
The selection criteria for the awards, organised by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce in association with the World Conservation Union, backed by the Netherlands government as principal sponsor, were environment, community relations, employee relations, customer relations and economic performance. CTC was reportedly selected on account of its contribution to “uplifting the lives of the rural masses”.
Comments in the local media attributed to CTC contained some truly emetic statements about its corporate social responsibility activities. Corporate-speak phrases ranging from environmental responsibility, engine of economic development, support for communities, high standards of ethical behaviour and greater transparency, jostled for space with buzzwords such as stakeholders, controversy and empowerment. To the statement by the country’s trade minister, who presided at the awards ceremony, that responsible business conduct could make a significant contribution to addressing the social and environmental challenges the country was facing, one could only ask what his colleague the health minister would have thought about the challenges faced from disease, disability and premature death among the award winner’s customers. So ends another unfortunate chapter in Sri Lanka’s history of seeing, hearing and speaking no evil about the tobacco industry, while seeming to care not a jot about its citizens’ health.