BBC investigation: British American Tobacco bribing government officials in the Third World


This is part of an ongoing series of articles about Big Tobacco’s desire to expand into emerging markets in the Third World — mostly Africa and South Asia — because of the decline of smoking rates in the West.

This awesome piece by BBC, with the help of a corporate whistleblower, shows that British American Tobacco, a seriously major player in the international tobacco business, was bribing government officials in East African nations to weaken laws on tobacco packaging and marketing.

According to email evidence obtained by the BBC from the whistleblower, British American Tobacco (BAT brands include Lucky Strike, Kent, Pall Mall,  Kool and Benson & Hedges) bribed a member of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which is the agency trying to reduce smoking in developing nations.

BAT_global_drive_brands (3)

British American Tobacco also bribed officials from Burundi and the Comoros Islands $3,000 each and an official in Rwanda $20,000.

From the BBC article:

Dr Vera Da Costa e Silva, from the WHO, said BAT “is irresponsible to say the least”.

“It is using bribery to profit at the cost of people’s lives, simple as that,” she said.

“BAT should be investigated by the government and should be punished accordingly.”

The bribe to the Burundi official was to receive a copy of that country’s draft tobacco control bill and to insure that the official “accommodate” British American Tobacco in adding certain amendments to the bill.

British American Tobacco is trying to claim that these were the actions of rogue employees and that the company is conducting its own investigation (Ie, looking for ways to cover its ass).

This isn’t looking good for British American Tobacco. The whistleblower recorded conversations  with a BAT attorney, telling the attorney that the company would have to continue paying government officials to keep their mouths shut about the bribes.

According to the BBC, the lawyer responded:  “That is what we are going to be paying. Yeah, OK, fine. Anything else that you think we will need to be paying for?”

This isn’t surprising to me in the least because Big Tobacco has been extremely aggressive trying to expand its markets in these smaller countries, using trade agreements, litigation and even using the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as an ally to bully smaller nations into dropping laws regulating tobacco packaging or marketing. The industry has been utterly shameless about this and its tactics around the world have gotten the attention of the New York Times and John Oliver. And they have also shown that they’re both desperate enough and sleazy enough to resort to out-and-out bribery.

British American Tobacco is under criminal investigation for the accusations from the Serious Fraud Office in the United Kingdom. Let’s hope this results in some indictments. Good job, BBC.