AB InBev, the largest beer producer in the world, is funding screening and brief intervention (SBI) in Brasilia, Brazil; Zacatecas, Mexico; and the Alexandra township in South Africa. In Zacatecas, Mexico the program is called “Escalemos” and is funded through its corporate social responsibility (CSR) arm the AB InBev Foundation.
SBI is intended to identify, prevent and reduce heavy alcohol use which can lead to alcohol use disorder or dependence.
Fundamental conflict of interest
It is a clear conflict of interest for AB InBev to be funding SBI. On one hand the beer giant is producing, selling, and marketing products that cause addiction – the very problem SBI is trying to prevent and mitigate. On the other hand, AB InBev is generating a large part of their profits from heavy alcohol use.
Big Alcohol is known to use their CSR projects and organizations to further their own profit interest instead of prioritizing the well-being of people and communities.
For example, one study found Big Alcohol used their CSR projects for the following objectives:
- As a means to frame issues, define problems and guide policy debates.
- In doing this, the alcohol companies are able to deflect and shift the blame from those who manufacture and promote alcoholic products to those who consume them.
- To promote CSR initiatives on voluntary regulation in order to delay and offset alcohol control legislation.
- As a means of indirect brand marketing as well as gaining preferential access to emerging alcohol markets.
Two of the strategies used by alcohol industry CSR bodies to mislead people on alcohol harms are “dark nudges” and “sludge” which exploit people’s cognitive biases to promote mixed messages on alcohol harms and to undermine scientific evidence about these harms.
Research has also found that despite claims made by alcohol-industry funded organizations their actions depict these organizations are not independent of the alcohol industry. Furthermore, CSR initiatives funded by the alcohol industry have not been found to effectively reduce alcohol harms.
Specifically in Latin America, scientific evidence has warned that alcohol-industry funded risk management CSR projects (such as the AB InBev SBI projects) could be used as a way to preserve markets by thwarting scientific evidence about alcohol related harms.
For example, AB InBev funded front group CISA (Information Center on Health and Alcohol) in Brazil has been exposed for engaging in widespread misinformation efforts regarding alcohol harms and policies. This misinformation campaign is possibly the reason behind Brazil not providing PAHO/WHO with accurate data for the APS report, leading to the dissemination of imprecise results worldwide.
It is concerning that AB InBev is gaining access to high-level officials and healthcare professionals through funding SBI in these countries.
For example, the program in Zacatecas is conducted with support of the Ministry of Health of Zacatecas. The program in Brasilia worked with 17 public sector primary care units and 200 SBI-trained health workers. The alcohol industry is known to infiltrate and influence alcohol policies to their advantage through its public relations front groups.
Big Alcohol’s fundamental conflict of interest
It is not entirely surprising that the alcohol industry behaves the way it does by using its CSRs and SAPROs to influence science and policies, obstruct evidence-based alcohol policy making, mislead the public about alcohol harms and finally maximize profits. This is because the alcohol industry has a fundamental conflict of interest with public health.
Increased alcohol consumption leads to increased negative health and development impacts, but also to increased sales for the alcohol industry, placing corporate interests in profit maximization in an inherent, direct, and fundamental conflict with the interest of people and communities in good health and development.
This conflict of interest is illustrated by the dependence the alcohol industry has on heavy alcohol use. For example a recent report found that over a third of all alcohol products in Australia are used by 5% of the heaviest alcohol users.
Essentially, what AB InBev is doing by funding SBI is claiming to prevent the very thing it profits from: heavy alcohol use.
AB InBev: “2021 Environmental, Social & Governance Report“