In Uganda, the government mandated closures of bars and restaurants to stop the spread of COVID-19. This was a measure recommended by the World Health Organization.
Research has also shown that using alcohol policy solutions is effective to mitigate the lethal interaction between the products and practices of the alcohol industry and the coronavirus pandemic.
- Alcohol increases the health and societal problems arising from the pandemic. For example, alcohol weakens the immune system and makes people more susceptible to infections. And alcohol-centric social contexts have been COVID-19 super spreader events.
- Alcohol increases the burden on healthcare and emergency services which are already stretched due to COVID-19.
- The alcohol industry exploits the pandemic to change alcohol laws to their benefit.
Uganda Breweries increases revenue during COVID-19
Uganda Breweries (UBL) – a subsidiary of global alcohol giant Diageo – managed to increase revenue by 33% in their financial year ending in June. They did so by exploiting the pandemic.
The three key strategies employed in Uganda were
- heavy alcohol marketing,
- online alcohol sale and on-demand delivery, and
- political interference.
As Movendi International previously reported, a report by the NCD Alliance and the SPECTRUM Research Consortium exposed how Big Alcohol along with other unhealthy industries turns COVID-19 into the world’s largest marketing campaign.
The report outlines four main strategies used by these industries:
- Pandemic-tailored marketing campaigns and stunts,
- Corporate social responsibility programmes,
- Fostering partnerships with governments, international agencies and NGOs, and
- Shaping policy environments.
Big Alcohol’s investment in rapid home delivery of alcohol and their embracing e-marketing platforms drove the revenue growth.
In Uganda, Big Alcohol is promoting “aggressive product sales,” as even alcohol industry friendly news media admit.
The alcohol industry’s interference in Ugandan alcohol policy is evident from a statement by Mr. Alvin Mbugua, UBL managing director:
… manufacturers in the beer, spirits and wine sectors will continue to engage government and other stakeholders to improve the operating and tax environment”.Alvin Mbugua, UBL managing director
And Uganda Breweries are lobbying against the current levels of alcohol taxation, in an attempt to weaken the government’s alcohol price regulations, to further increase revenue and profit.
The subversive way in which the alcohol industry attempts to manipulate alcohol policy making in the country is also apparent by the AB InBev owned Nile Breweries Limited (NBL) recent launch of “Global Smart Drinking Week (GSDW)“. The brewer joined with Jumia, a major delivery service provider including for alcohol to launch this week. Through this week the alcohol company NBL is trying to position themselves as a partner for sustainable development and reducing alcohol harm. However, there is ample scientific evidence proving that this type of corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects by the alcohol industry does not help to reduce harm caused by the industry’s own products. In fact what these CSR projects do is:
- Shift the blame from the industry that creates alcohol to people who consume it.
- Send mixed messages to consumers about alcohol harm to confuse them.
- Undermine evidence-based science on harms caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry.
- Promote voluntary regulation to delay or offset alcohol policy legislations.
- Promote brands indirectly and build a positive image.
Long track record of alcohol industry interference
This continuing interference by the alcohol industry was a major obstacle towards Uganda’s recently adopted national alcohol policy. It took a decade of advocacy in Uganda to adopt an alcohol policy with a public health focus.
The Uganda Alcohol Policy Alliance (UAPA), a member organization of Movendi International, was at the heart of the work for the new policy.
But alcohol industry interference has caused persisting delays in the actual commencement of implementation.
The next step for Uganda is developing and implementing an Alcohol Law based on the adopted policy. The struggle between health and commercial interests for alcohol regulation continues to this day in the country.
This article was updated on October 27, 2021 as per new information from PML Daily.