What is happening to the International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP)? For an organization that proudly boasts about its “analysis, balance and partnership,” ICAP’s façade of corporate social responsibility has been undermined by a recent series of bombshell revelations.
The first bombshell is a textual analysis of policy documents that were being distributed by ICAP throughout sub-Saharan Africa to the governments of some of the poorest countries of the world. In 2010 Oystein Bakke and Dag Endal (1) reported that government officials, representatives of civil society groups, and NGO representatives in more than ten African countries had been invited to attend “workshops” devoted to the engagement of “civil society” in alcohol policy “partnerships.”
The workshops were organized under the leadership of then ICAP Senior Consultant Keith Evans, who at the time was executive director for Drug and Alcohol Services in the state of South Australia. At the end of the conferences documents were produced endorsing industry-favorable positions such as the need to regulate the illegal production of alcohol, the value of entrusting the alcohol industry with the right to regulate its own marketing activities and the “right of citizens” to enjoy alcohol (ignoring any mention of the fact that many of the same countries have large Muslum populations). Following the workshops, the conference consensus documents were translated into a national strategies that were presented to at least four African governments. In their textual analysis of the four strategies, Bakke and Endal (1) found them to be virtually identical, with all documents originating from the MS Word document of a senior executive of SABMiller, one of the ICAP’S funders and the largest international beer producer in Africa. Subsequent to the publication of this analysis, Mr. Evans’s African activities were reported by a local newspaper (2) and he was investigated by the Government of South Australia. The investigation concluded that there was a clear conflict of interest between Mr. Evans’ ICAP activities and his role as Executive Director of Drug and Alcohol Services, and that the conflict was not appropriately declared. Mr. Evans subsequently resigned from both his position as Executive Director and from the ICAP Board of Senior Consultants.
A similar scenario has unfolded in Asia, with conferences organized over the past 5 years by ICAP and multinational brewers in Viet Nam, Japan, Thailand and China. One of the featured speakers at these conferences has been ICAP Senior Consultant Prof. Ian Newman, who in 2010 was the co-author of an article published in Addiction that was subject to a correction because of Newman’s failure to declare a potential Conflict of Interest on the journal’s declaration forms (3).
ICAP has always operated in ways that appear to mimic similar organizations set up by the Tobacco Industry (4), but it was not until David Jernigan’s (5) recent article in the American Journal of Public Health that there was clear evidence of the role of the tobacco industry in establishing the model that ICAP has used since its inception. With the support of corporate patron Phillip Morris, who then owned the Miller Brewing Company, internal tobacco company documents reveal how in 1995 Miller Brewing signed on as one of 10 ICAP sponsors in order to assist “our sales and marketing group in an increasingly competitive marketplace.” Other revelations in the Jernigan article include ICAP’s payments of huge writing fees (up to $13,000 for a book chapter) to sympathetic academics, frequent lobbying for the alcohol industry at the offices of the World Health Organization (WHO) around the world, and attempts to influence WHO and leading alcohol researchers by mimicking the policy activities of WHO without that organization’s signature focus on population health.
The third bombshell that is likely to raise eyebrows at ICAP’s Washington, D.C. headquarters is a paper by Thomas Babor and Kate Robaina (6), which analyses the alcohol industry’s recent corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. CSR is being promoted by ICAP in a web-based compendium of “Global Actions on Harmful Drinking” (7), which seem to mimic WHO’s “Global Strategy on the Harmful Use of Alcohol” (8).
Over 400 initiatives were listed in late 2011, representing the efforts of 91 alcohol companies or organizations funded by the alcohol industry. The analysis showed that the alcohol industry’s CSR activities increased dramatically in 2007 and 2008, at a time when the WHO was preparing its Global Strategy. These initiatives were reviewed by the authors to determine whether they included evidence-based practices recommended by WHO and public health authorities (9). The review found that most of these programs reflect training programs, media campaigns, awareness raising and other activities that have not been evaluated or have been found to be ineffective in preventing or reducing harmful drinking (9). At best, these programs appear to be innocuous but well-meaning attempts to dissociate the industry’s products from the growing public revulsion to the culture of binge drinking that characterizes adolescent and young adult drinking in many countries. At worst, the campaign is disingenuous, self-promoting and in some cases potentially harmful. For example, the Belgian Brewers’ “Respect 16” campaign (7) encourages salespeople and parents to “say no” to serving alcohol to young persons aged 15 and under, which implicitly encourages the same people to “say yes” to 16-year olds being allowed to purchase and use alcohol. In Germany, the alcohol producers support a program that provided alcohol to underage drinkers so they could see how alcohol impaired their ability to drive. The program has never been evaluated for effectiveness, much less harm to young persons. Another “Global Action” listed on the industry’s website featured a program in Ireland that encouraged publicans to “desist from filling cups with alcohol for victorious underage teams. Where possible (emphasis added), underage teams will only be entertained at function rooms where there is no bar..” The industry’s endorsement of ineffective if not harmful programs demonstrates a surprising lack of understanding of the health implications of their global actions. At a conference held in Washington, DC, October 8-9, 2012, 13 global producers highlighted the above-mentioned global actions and vowed to intensify their attempts to implement the WHO Global Strategy over the next five years.
Genealogical connections to the tobacco industry, blatant lobbying for the global alcohol producers, promotion of sham policy measures in some of the poorest countries of the world, conflict of interest problems with its Senior Consultants, and a global policy agenda that mimics, diminishes and misrepresents the work of the World Health Organization.
This is not a pretty picture for an organization that claims to promote ethical decision-making, concern for the Third World and unbiased policy analysis. Despite ICAP’s carefully cultivated image of partnership and balance, it has increasingly become personae non grata, if not a pariah organization, among NGOs, alcohol policy scientists and in the international public health community. Perhaps the best advice on collaboration with the alcohol industry was articulated by the Edwards and colleagues (10) in the following quote: “The drinks trade wanting to enter into partnership on health issues is a bit like saying the International Federation of Wolves should be allowed into partnership with grandmothers.”
For further reading:
A PPT I’ve put together: Alcohol Policy, Academic Medicine and the Alcohol Beverage Industry
Big Tobacco, Big Alcohol and other industries being monitored for their impact on public health: Corporations and Health Watch. Tracking the effects of corporate practices on health.
(1) Bakke O, Endal D. Alcohol policies out of context: drinks industry supplanting government role in alcohol policies in sub-Saharan Africa. Addiction. 2010;105(1): 22-28.
(2) Shepherd T. Alcohol chief reprimanded for conflict of interests. The Advertiser. March 18, 2010. http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/alcohol-chief-reprimanded-for-conflict-of-interests/story-e6frea83-1225842056874.
(3) Erratum. Shell D. F., Newman, I. M., Xiaoyi, F. The influence of cultural orientation, alcohol expectancies and self-efficacy on adolescent drinking behavior in Beijing. Addiction 2011, 106, 1882
(4) Bond, L., Daube, M., Chikritzhs, T. Selling addictions: Similarities in approaches between big tobacco and big booze (2010) Australasian Medical Journal, 3 (6), pp. 325-332. Cited 2 times.
(5) Jernigan, DH. Global alcohol producers, science and policy: The case of the International Center for Alcohol Policy. American Journal of Public Health, 2012
(6) Babor, T.F., Robaina, K. Public Health, Academic Medicine, and the Alcohol Industry’s Corporate Social Responsibility Activities. American Journal of Public Health, in press
(7) Global Actions on Harmful Drinking. Global Social Responsibility. February, 2010. http://www.global-actions.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=DDaTHhZ6iRo%3D&tabid=285. Accessed February 10, 2011.
(8) World Health Organization (WHO). 2010. Global Strategy to Reduce the
Harmful Use of Alcohol. Geneva: World Health Organization. WHA63.13. http://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/WHA63-REC1/WHA63_REC1-P2-en.pdf
(9) Babor, T., Caetano, R., Casswell, S., Edwards, G., Giesbrecht, N., Graham, K., Grube, J., Hill, L., Holder, H., Homel, R., Livingstone, M., Österberg, E., Rehm, J., Room, R., Rossow, I. Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity – Research and Public Policy. 2nd edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
(10) Edwards, G., West, R., Babor, T.F., Hall, W., Marsden, J. An invitation to an alcohol industry lobby to help decide public funding of alcohol research and professional training: A decision that should be reversed (2004) Addiction, 99 (10), pp. 1235-1236.
We now have good evidence it is a clear strategy of the global alcohol producers to seek a seat at the health policy table as ‘partnership’ gives the industry legitimacy and provides them with a platform to lobby against proposals which will be effective in reducing availability. We know from the evidence that policies favourable to the industry will increase availability, decrease abstinence rates and generate harm. If there is any doubt about this we need only look at their practices in developing countries where they use marketing to speed up the onset of drinking and increase the consumption of those already drinking.
In German people say: “Lügen haben kurze Beine.” (Lies have short legs) And the conduct of Big Alcohol in different places of the world really is a vivid, perfect but tragic example. Reality catches up with your lies. You cannot outrun it.
The task is now to get this across to the decision-makers who believe, naively, that self-regulation can work.
What are the best and most effective ways to get the message across?