The negative effects of some global economic practices on the planet and society’s health prompted voluntary organizations to establish frameworks that aim at standardizing CSR initiatives (Benn & Bolton, 2011). There is a lack of a worldwide-standardized CSR governance structure and the voluntary organization frameworks attempt to come up with these structures. A challenge that would undermine the goal of voluntary organization networks and similar initiatives is the political interference of corporations in the implementation of policies that would negatively affect their business returns.
Fooks et al. (2011), reports that since the year 2000, the British American Tobacco (BAT) Company made a decision to join the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) community, and commenced with the donation of £3.8 million to the CSR centre at the University of Nottingham. The fact that a company that sells a product that kills many people a year and that causes other lung diseases entering the world of CSR was received with hostility and cynicism. Later, the CSR and business communities gradually accepted the BATs CSR program (CSRP) and BATs top management would give talks on business ethics and CSR, and BAT received several awards for its CSRP. Fooks et al. (2011) argue that one of the reasons that the BAT CSR program was accepted is literature that does not focus on the political nature of the CSR program. Fooks et al (2011) add that the only motivation for tobacco companies to engage themselves in CSR is to manage their reputation as well as to restore their legitimacy. An example of the political aspect of CSR, is the use of CSR as a tool for regulatory management as the tobacco companies have done and ultimately.
BAT has also made efforts to reestablish connections with United Kingdom’s Department of Health (DoH), since the Department of Health prefers to restrict it’s interaction with tobacco companies. BAT uses its CSRP to dialogue with policy makers in an attempt to change public priorities as well as the proposal of self-regulatory measures for the companies, and on concerns of gaining trust to collaborate with the industry. Fooks et al. (2011) did a study on BATs CSR documents that are available for scrutiny at the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, and found out that historically BAT has had access to policy makers, and consultations were held with them on plans for new government policy. BAT also used its connections with the UK Department of Trade and Industry in order to have the External Affairs Manager, help BAT to fend off foreign competition. BAT also relied on the UK to veto proposed EU Tobacco Controlled Legislation (Fooks et al., 2011).
Towards the late 1990s, BAT was worried about its diminished relationship with the DoH, and the management felt it was losing footage with its political insider position. The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) international treaty that was negotiated under the World Health Organization (WHO) also increased BAT’s worry, as well as increasing planned measures by the European Union (EU) to limit tobacco advertising and to stiffen production laws. In 1998, the UK Labor government published a white paper that presented suggestions to prevent tobacco smuggling, stop tobacco promotion and advertisement, and a proposal of actions towards clean indoor air. In 1999, the House of Commons made an inquiry into the tobacco industry and the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) launched an investigation in 2000 that revealed incriminating information on BAT’s tobacco smuggling activities. The suspicion of BAT’s activities were precipitated by the release of some internal documents, which also deepened distrust with political players, and limited BAT’s access to the officials involved in tobacco related business discussions. By 2000, BATs chair Martin Broughton described the relationship between the DoH and tobacco industry as a “Mexican Stand-off” in comparison to the relationship that existed between the DOH and BAT during the past Conservative Party regime’s administrators. The lack of access to DoH officials made it had for BAT to influence the DoH on negotiations over the introduction of EU’s Tobacco Products Directive (Fooks et al., 2011).
The increased uncertainty of BAT’s future led BAT’s management to resort to the use of a Public Affairs plan with the intention of redeeming itself in the UK. BATs management was keen on changing their image, so that they would regain their previous insider position since the tobacco smuggling suspicion, not only dented their image in the UK but also in countries worldwide where they have branches and subsidiaries. BAT initiated CRS policies in an attempt to gain access to the government official’s inner circle. BAT initiated the Partner for change Program (PCP), which addressed various issues such as youth smoking initiatives, accommodation of smokers and non-smokers, reduced risk cigarettes and voluntary marketing codes. The PCP initiative was BAT’s blue print for the proposal of the importance of public health meetings among public health groups, Government officers, and tobacco companies in the form of forums and summits (Fooks et al., 2011).
A Further attempt is evident via the meetings that BAT Chairperson Martin Broughton met with the secretary of state for health Alan Milburn, and proposed a partnership with the government so that they could cooperate on matters of tobacco and disease. Milburn’s lack of interest made Broughton to propose a government partnership with BAT to promote the PCP initiative, but Prime Minister Tony Blair rejected the proposal. Later through the help of DTI, the Prime minister endorsed the PCP initiative. This break through after a lot of letter writing and meetings gave BAT the moral to use CSR as a form of gaining access. BAT’s also saw the use of CRS as an instrument that it could use to frame issues to its favor or issue definition, whereby they made argument against governance and regulation in a new perspective (Burton & Rowell, 2002). For instance, BAT’s Corporate and Regulatory Affairs department proposed to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Corporate Responsibility that, a focus in the reduction of smoking rates is a rejection of harm reduction (Fooks et al., 2011).
Although the Fooks et al. (2011) findings do not give the whole picture on BAT’s activities, there is enough evidence to show that CSR activities are for the purposes of gaining access to key industry administrator, influencing public opinion through issue definition, improving public image. It is also important to note that the CSR initiatives also cost the company hosting the initiatives financially; therefore, most companies would carry out CSR initiatives with some sort of returns in mind.
Benn, S., & Bolton, D. (2011). Key concepts in corporate social responsibility. SAGE Publication Limited. Text
Burton, B. & Rowell, A. (2002). British American Tobacco's Socially Responsible Smoke Screen.PRWatch.Retrieved on 26 Aug 2012 from web: