Big Alcohol is using a new tactic in Vietnam by partnering with a youth union. Saigon Beer Alcohol Beverage Corporation (SABECO) and the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union (HCYU) have entered into a three-year strategic and sustainable cooperation agreement.
The partnership is set to focus on four main areas:
- National development activities, with a focus on promoting and supporting the development of young talent;
- Accompanying youth in business start-ups, starting a career, livelihood support, training, and improving the competitiveness of small and medium household businesses;
- Encouraging and honoring exemplary workers; and
- Cultural preservation activities that encourage a healthy, positive living culture in the community.
The partnership plans to implement activities that promote a civil lifestyle, healthy living, and “responsible drinking”, especially among youth.
It is highly controversial for an alcohol company that produces, markets, sells and profits from a harmful substance to be promoting “healthy living”. There is a clear conflict of interest. This fundamental conflict of interest is inherent in the partnership and revealed by the fact that the majority of adults in Vietnam do not even consume alcohol; likewise the majority of Vietnamese youth does not consume alcohol overall. Even heavy episodic alcohol use among Vietnamese youth is low.
Research has proven that “responsible drinking” initiatives do more harm than good:
- they normalize alcohol among young people;
- they spread the myth of “healthy” alcohol use;
- they blame the individual user for alcohol problems; and
- they allow Big Alcohol to create a health-halo for itself.
Who is SABECO?
The partnership comes as SABECO is aiming to further enhance its competitiveness and profitability, according to Vietnam Investment Review. General director Neo Bennett proclaimed that “SABECO will soon find its pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
Saigon Beer Alcohol Beverage Corp (SABECO) is Vietnam’s leading beer producer. In 2017, Thai Beverage (ThaiBev) acquired a 54% stake in Sabeco from the Ministry of Industry and Trade.
In 2020, the Vietnamese Government reported that the Vietnam Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT) transferred all of its ownership stake in SABECO to the State Capital Investment Corporation (SCIC).
The government’s stake in SABECO was reported to be more than VND2.3 trillion ($99.3 million), which 36% of SABECOs charter capital.
This transfer was done under the direction of the prime minister as per a decision in June 2020. Upon completion of the transfer, SCIC will be responsible for divesting all state capital from Sabeco as per the prime minister’s decision.
Apart from majority shareholder ThaiBev, other overseas companies hold a 9.71% stake in SABECO, while the remaining stake is held by other small shareholders.
SABECO has set an aggressive target for revenue of $1.51 billion increase, and profit maximization after tax at $199 million, in 2022, up 32% and 17% on-year, respectively. It has also set more aggressive targets for further market share in 2022. And in 2022, SABECO is also focusing on aggressive market expansion both domestically and internationally.
That is the real context of the partnership with HCYU that aims at turning young Vietnamese into alcohol users and brand loyal consumers of SABECO.
Alcohol harm in Vietnam
Already, the products and practices of SABECO cause serious harm in Vietnam.
- Alcohol is one of the major risk factors for the growing Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) burden in the country.
- Statistics indicate an upward trend in the average per capita alcohol consumption among people aged 15 and above, both male and female, in Vietnam.
- The rate of alcohol use among adolescents and youth is about 80% for males and 36% for females.
- About 40% of males engage in heavy alcohol consumption in the country.
- Alcohol harm in Vietnam amounts to costs of 1.3 to 3.3% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Vietnamese Alcohol policy and Big Alcohol interference
This heavy burden of alcohol harm is why the Vietnamese government passed the Alcohol Harm Prevention Law in 2019. The law came into effect in 2020.
As Movendi International previously reported, this law was heavily influenced and watered down by Big Alcohol lobbying. The Alcohol Harm Prevention law did not include alcohol taxation or another pricing policy measure.
Despite alcohol industry interference, Vietnam has been making improvements in its alcohol policies. Recently, the Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Le Linh Khai approved the Strategy for Tax System Reform till 2030. As per the strategy, Vietnam will adopt a road map to increase excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol products.
Vietnam is the third-largest beer consumer in Asia and beer volumes have risen by an average 6.6% for the last six years compared to the 0.2% increase globally. Since the Alcohol Harm Prevention law came into effect Vietnam has seen a drop in beer sales. This is bad news for SABECO which is Vietnam’s leading beer producer.
It appears SABECO and Big Alcohol are employing the tactic of partnering with the youth union HCYU to keep increasing alcohol use and to drive higher consumption amidst alcohol policy improvements in Vietnam and decreasing beer consumption.
Research shows “responsible drinking” initiative by Big Alcohol causes more harm than good
One of the activities that the partnership between SABECO and HCYU will implement is a “responsible drinking” initiative specifically targeting young people.
This is harmful. Research has proven that these type of initiatives do more harm than good.
- In this commentary Petticrew and colleagues (2020) point out blatant misinformation propagated by an industry-funded study on “responsible drinking”.
- Another study by Dumbili and colleagues (2022) found that alcohol companies frame “responsible drinking messages” to promote alcohol consumption and individual responsibility.
- Thus, it engenders subjective interpretations, including high-risk alcohol use behaviors. The authors advise implementing alcohol policies and low-risk guidelines and avoiding self-regulation and alcohol industry websites such as Drinkaware and DrinkIQ.
- This study by May C. I. van Schalkwyk and colleagues (2022) found that alcohol industry-funded school-based youth education programs serve industry interests.
- These programs disguise themselves as educating children and youth about alcohol harm but actually promote “moderate” alcohol use, place the sole responsibility and blame on the individual, and escape any responsibility on part of the industry.
- This study by N. Maani and colleagues (2021) found that alcohol industry misinformation spreads uncertainty about scientific evidence depicting the harm caused by alcohol products.
This new partnership by SABECO with HCYU is just an extension of the same strategy used by Big Alcohol in other countries to misinform young people about alcohol harm and promote alcohol use. HCYU is being used by SABECO to benefit industry interests.
A better strategy for youth organizations to tackle the alcohol problem is seen in Dutch universities. Dutch universities committed to the National Prevention Agreement to stem alcohol problems on campus. Based on this agreement, the University of Twente (UT) formed a policy to prevent and reduce alcohol harm. The Student Union is driving this change through information, awareness, and normalization of alcohol-free alternatives.
Viêt Nam News: “HCM Communist Youth Union and SABECO enter three-year partnership“
Drinks Insight: “Vietnam transfers stake in Saigon Beer Alcohol Beverage“
U Today: “New alcohol policy: no prohibition, but awareness“
Wikipedia: “Sabeco Brewery“
Vietnam Investment Review: “SABECO displaying vigilance in new transformation phase“