David Beckham and alcohol industry giant Diageo put their own profits over the rights and well-being of children around the world. And those who are supposed to curb harmful marketing practices stand idly by…

Today I woke up to a BBC news story from yesterday afternoon.

The headline read: “David Beckham Whiskey Advert Cleared By Watchdog”.

It was a big shock to all of us in the public health, Human Rights and Child Rights communities when we learned about the endorsement deal between alcohol industry giant Diageo and global celebrity David Beckham.

During his career David Beckham chose to live free from alcohol – a fact that was widely reported and well-known. It’s also well-known that David Beckham is UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Cearly, the deal with Diageo to endorse one of their liquor brands does not fit into this picture.

I think that Alcohol Concern was right to complain about it. And we in Movendi International certainly commend them and support them in that effort. Unfortunately, as the BBC headline sensationally reports, the complaint was rejected.

I have a couple of issues with the entire story:

1) The BBC headline is inadequate (at best)

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is NOT a watchdog and they don’t even claim that themselves. They are funded by industry money (“at arm’s length”) and make the claim to be “independent”. A watchdog they are not, independent they are not, and the industry is also not kep at arm’s length.

A common definition of ‘watchdog’ reads:

A person or group that monitors the practices of companies providing a particular service or utility.”

Oxford Dictionary

The ASA doesn’t do that and the picture that is painted from the BBC headline is giving the wrong impression.

The case is itself speaks volumes: Diageo apparently believes it’s no problem that almost a quarter of David Beckham’s Facebook fans are under-age, and would be exposed to marketing of their liquor brand.

That brings me to the second issue I have.

2) The apparent breakdown of the self-regulatory system of alcohol marketing in the UK

Alcohol Concern rightly complained about the advertising campaign of Mr. Beckham together with Diageo. They invoked that the campaign was irresponsible as it would appeal to teenagers and imply that using alcohol was a key to social success or acceptance. Clearly Diageo seeks to link their product with style, fashion and the lifestyle appeal that Mr. Beckham represents as global icon.

The ASA’s reaction was to agree that as a footballer and celebrity Mr. Beckham would be likely to hold general appeal for “SOME” children.

I find that appalling, to be honest. How can the ASA hold that the profits of the world’s biggest liquor producer and of Mr. Beckham are more important than the rights and well-being of children?

The ASA noted that Mr. Beckham “had been prominently involved in promoting Sainsbury’s Active Kids and Unicef campaigns, but considered that these were unlikely to contribute particularly to his appeal to children or to indicate that he had a strong appeal to them.”

This statement amounts to a bankruptcy declaration of the ASA.

Mr. Beckham has traveled far and wide to meet children in West Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa and in South-East Asia. His endorsement deal for a liquor brand goes contrary to everything that children need for well-being and a childhood that empowers them. Millions of children bear the burden of alcohol harm. The ASA is ignorant of this evidence. The ASA is also ignorant of Art. 3 in the Convention on the Rights of the Child – the most widely ratified UN Convention – which stipulates the following:

1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

CRC, Article 3 

Self-regulation is no regulation

This case in the UK is another example for the fact that self-regulation schemes of alcohol marketing do not work in protecting children and youth. This case also shows the hypocrisy of the alcohol industry and celebrities as Mr. Beckham. Not a single child should have to suffer from the practices of the alcohol industry. Every child on our planet has the right to be protected from alcohol harm and every child has the right to grow up alcohol free.

Neither Mr. Beckham, Diageo, nor the ASA are willing to grant children these fundamental rights.