As British American Tobacco (BAT) organized its annual general meeting in London, the Environmental Rights Action and other anti-tobacco groups have demanded an investigation into reported bribery and espionage by the tobacco giant.
The call was part of the international day of action against BAT by anti- tobacco groups across the world. At a press briefing on Make BAT Pay in Lagos, ERA/FoEN Deputy Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi said that the Nigerian government should investigate waivers and other incentives that BAT got in the past as the systematic bribery and blackmail that the company had been linked to in East Africa may not have been restricted to that part of Africa alone.
Late last year, Paul Hopkins—an employee in BAT’s regional office in Kenya for 13 years—revealed the inner workings of BAT’s systematic bribery and espionage used to obstruct lifesaving laws. The bribes ranged from $3,000 to $20,000 and some were even sanctioned by a regional executive.
Among the revelations was at least one bribe to a government representative from Burundi to represent BAT’s interests at a World Health Organization global tobacco treaty meeting. There were multiple bribes to politicians and policymakers to gain access to and obstruct tobacco control policymaking.
In addition to Hopkins’ revelations, whistleblowers in Uganda and South Africa have shed further light on BAT’s use of bribery in those countries. Tens of thousands of people, dozens of organizations, and ten Members of U.S. Congress have already called for governments to investigate BAT and hold it accountable. Kenya’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission became the first to launch a formal investigation into BAT, with potential investigations in the UK and the US.
“It shouldn’t take 15 years to pass a law, so in the seven years it took to pass Kenya’s tobacco control act and the eight it took to pass implementing regulations, we have had many reasons to suspect BAT was engaging in illicit activities,” said Samuel Ochieng Director of Consumer Information Network in Kenya. “Now that we have irrefutable evidence of bribery,” he added, “we will be proud when Kenya is the first country to investigate BAT and hold it accountable.”
“While BAT’s executives toast to deadly profits and generations of addiction, people and governments around the world are organizing to hold them accountable for their abuses,” said John Stewart, Deputy Director at Corporate Accountability International, “Fortunately people and governments have the law on their side and the global tobacco treaty provides a proven roadmap to rein in this abusive industry at every turn.”
Oluwafemi said: “In the course of the torturous process of getting the National Tobacco Control Bill (now Tobacco Control Act) into law, tens of hurriedly-formed BAT front groups were deployed to fight taxation recommendations, ban on Tobacco Advertising Promotion and Sponsorships (TAPS) and other life-saving provisions from getting into the final document that was finally signed by the former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan on May 25, 2015.