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The 13th World Conference on Tobacco OR Health
Building capacity for a tobacco-free world
July 12-15, 2006, Washington, DC, USA
Objective: To examine British American Tobacco's (BAT's) conduct in Burma (Myanmar) as a case study in its engagement with authoritarian regimes, with particular reference to human rights.
Methods: Analysis of BAT's previously secret corporate documents.
Results: BAT has broadly rejected criticism of its willingness to work with authoritarian regimes whose human rights record has been broadly condemned. Specific references to Burma reflect the company's general stance on human rights, that constructive engagement with national governments is the best long term approach. More broadly, its corporate social responsibility (CSR) documents proclaim the company's commitments to advancing human rights.
Previously confidential company documents provide some insight into BAT initiatives in Burma. Frustrated by protracted negotiations to establish a joint venture with the military government, BAT's 1999 merger with Rothmans of Pall Mall brought the latter's Myanmar production facilities into the BAT group. The documents demonstrate BAT's aggressive marketing of its imported brands through largely unrestricted advertising channels, sponsorship of sporting events, and sampling, as well as the company's complicity in cigarette smuggling. Documents analysed during this study do not demonstrate any attempt to engage with the military regime to advance a human rights agenda.
This study provides important insights into BAT's global conduct, particularly in developing countries. Though BAT eventually pulled out of its joint venture with Myanmar Economic Holdings in response to international pressure, the arguments used to justify its involvement are still advanced elsewhere. Proclaimed commitments to CSR cannot be reconciled with BAT's ongoing involvement in Uzbekistan and North Korea.