*We emphatically reject mischaracterisation of our anti-illicit trade activity, BAT reacts
By Agbonkhese Oboh, LAGOS
The African Tobacco Control Alliance, ATCA, has said analyses of documents and court records exposed British American Tobacco Plc, BAT, as displaying contempt for African laws, business and trade and the health and well-being of Africans.
Akinbode Oluwafemi, Chairman of ATCA, said this following the reports by the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath published by STOP, a global tobacco industry watchdog, which suggests that BAT allegedly used unethical means to tighten its already crushing market grip on Africa.
The rights group said in several East and Central African countries, and South Africa, BAT appeared to be operating as if it were above the law.
It said BAT bought influence and advantage; worked with state agencies, while allegedly complicit in smuggling.
However, in a swift reaction, BAT told Vanguard it rejects the “mischaracterisation of our conduct by some media outlets”.
Contacted via email, BAT directed Vanguard, through a link, to its site where it stated its stand on the reports.
The reply was signed by one Anna, who asked that the reaction be attributed to “a BAT spokesperson (no name)”.
Followed, the link led to BAT’s statement where it said, among other things, that allegations of this nature were not new.
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It added that they had been covered extensively in various news media over several years and suggested that attention should, instead, be shift to collectively tackling criminal illicit cigarette trade.
“BAT fully cooperated with a UK SFO investigation, and in January 2021 the SFO announced that, ‘following extensive investigation and a comprehensive review of the available evidence’, it had closed its investigation into BAT, its subsidiaries and associated persons, without charge.
“The criminal illicit cigarette trade has a significant detrimental effect on society and should be the focus of collective effort and attention by all stakeholders.
“Acting responsibly and with integrity underpins the foundations of our culture and values as a company.
“BAT is committed to the highest standards of corporate conduct and transparency wherever we operate.
“BAT has long been committed to fighting the global criminal trade in illicit tobacco.
“As part of those efforts, BAT has sought to assist national law enforcement agencies in providing support and, in the past, intelligence on suspected illicit operators,” it noted.
But the reports alleged that payments may have helped secure influence on health policies in key African countries.
“Documents also provide evidence that suggests, in South Africa, BAT hired private contractors, under the pretense of anti-smuggling efforts, to carry out military-style surveillance and operations to disrupt its competitors,” the reports noted.
“Our analysis shows that BAT’s potentially corrupt practices in Africa were not just the work of a few bad apples,” said Andrew Rowell, Senior Researcher Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, a partner in STOP.
Commenting on the reports, Oluwafemi said: “BAT’s behaviour is a reminder of the tobacco industry’s deep colonialist roots, showing contempt for African laws, business and trade and the health and well-being of Africans.
“Then and now, the tobacco industry seeks to exploit Africans for its own profit with no consideration for the harm it causes.”