Africa: Is Heineken Brewing Better Future?
Heineken makes bold claims about brewing a better future in Africa, but does this beer giant actually do what they say? Author of “Heineken in Africa”, Olivier van Beemen explores the current state of Heineken’s operations in the African region, which suggest the better future they are brewing is for no one but themselves and their mostly western shareholders.
Heineken has widely used marketing for their advantage to pose as a premium brand. They have used major league pro sports such as European Champions League football and Formula One auto races as well as movies such as the James Bond series to carve out the premium brand status for an average product.
Likewise Heineken has positioned themselves in the African region as being good for the continent. Why is Heineken this invested in the African region? Simply put its profit. Not only does the company expect substantial future growth from the continent’s emerging economies, Africa is already 42% more profitable than the worldwide average for Heineken.
Unethical marketing in Africa
Most countries across the African region have no or very weak laws governing alcohol marketing and many countries have weak alcohol policies in general, which are exploited by Heineken for their advantage. The multinational beer giant has used every possible space for their product marketing. Several of Heineken’s unethical marketing practices are as follows:
- Painting entire neighborhoods in the colour of a popular local beer brand;
- Painting beer logos on police stations, pharmacies and school buses;
- Renovating primary schools and putting up their logo on the school walls;
- Organizing beer and health conferences to mislead the public and encourage consumption of 1.5 litres of beer per day for better health; and
- Using “beer promotion girls” who are economically and sexually exploited.
After the uncovering of wide sexual abuse within Heineken operations in Africa, Heineken promised quick improvements. Saying if the company couldn’t guarantee good working conditions in a particular country within three months, it would cease its promotion activities there.
However, since the scandal, nothing has changed in Kenya to this day. Heineken has made matters worse by not taking responsibility. Heineken’s current CEO, Jean-François van Boxmeer, blamed the intermediary agencies that hire the women in most countries.
We can’t control everything,” he excused Heineken’s unethical practices in an interview in the Dutch financial newspaper FD.
Other controversial business conduct
Beyond the unethical marketing, Heineken has been caught up in a long list of unethical business practices. Including but not limited to:
- High level corruption and fraud,
- Tax avoidance,
- Support to authoritarian regimes,
- Collaborating with violent rebel groups, and
- Complicity in genocide.
According to the book “Heineken in Africa”, the beer ginat’s contribution to economic growth, employment and development in African countries is likely to be negative, due to the immense costs of alcohol harm for the health, economy and social fabric of African countries.
Heineken’s blindfold: marketing and story telling
Heineken has convinced governments, business partners and NGOs that its presence is highly beneficial to African host nations, by using their trademark blindfold of marketing and story telling.
Heineken uses slogans such as “Brewing a Better World” and “Growing Together in Africa.” It has created a charity, the “Heineken Africa Foundation” which spends over $1-million per year to “bridge the gap between the haves and have nots in Africa.”
Heineken presents the African region as difficult to conduct business in, but hides that these difficulties are what the beer giant exploits and foments to increase profits. Poverty and bad roads make a competitor think twice before entering the market – and fewer players means higher profits.
The lack of government regulation and poor education systems make it easier for Heineken to convince people that consuming its product is good for health.
The aid and trade policy of Heineken is lauded by governments. The global beer giant received millions of euros in subsidies from Dutch taxpayers for agricultural projects in Africa. However, as Movendi International reported previously, the aid is lagging behind the trade as most objectives are not reached while profits increase.
Heineken is certainly brewing a better future – for themselves and their mostly western shareholders, at the cost of the African region, its societies, communities and people.