Management of Conflicts of Interest in WHO’s Consultative Processes on Global Alcohol Policy
The World Health Organization (WHO) has engaged in consultations with the alcohol industry in global alcohol policy development, including currently a draft action plan to strengthen the implementation of the Global Alcohol Strategy.
WHO’s Framework for Engagement with Non-State Actors (FENSA) is an organization-wide policy that aims to manage potential conflicts of interest in WHO’s interactions with private sector entities, non-governmental institutions, philanthropic foundations and academic institutions.
The researchers analysed the alignment of WHO’s consultative processes with non-state actors on “the way forward” for alcohol policy and a global alcohol action plan with FENSA. The researchers referred to publicly accessible WHO documents, including the Alcohol, Drugs and Addictive Behaviours Unit website, records of relevant meetings, and other documents relevant to FENSA.
The researchers documented submissions to two web-based consultations held in 2019 and 2020 by type of organization and links to the alcohol industry.
WHO’s processes to conduct due diligence, risk assessment and risk management as required by FENSA appeared to be inadequate.
Limited information was published on non-state actors, primarily the alcohol industry, that participated in the consultations, including their potential conflicts of interest. No minutes were published for WHO’s virtual meeting with the alcohol industry, suggesting a lack of transparency.
Organizations with known links to the tobacco industry participated in both web-based consultations, despite FENSA’s principle of non-engagement with tobacco industry actors.
WHO’s consultative processes have not been adequate to address conflicts of interest in relation to the alcohol industry, violating the principles of FENSA. Member states must ensure that WHO has the resources to implement and is held accountable for appropriate and consistent safeguards against industry interference in the development of global alcohol policy.
Movendi International Investigation
Movendi International investigations first exposed alcohol industry and tobacco industry collaboration to interfere against the alcohol action plan.
In December 2020 the World Health Organization conducted a web-based consultation on a working document to develop a global action plan to better implement the WHO Global Alcohol Strategy.
When the submissions were released, Movendi International uncovered the concerted effort of the alcohol industry to deploy a Big Tobacco network of think tanks to interfere in the WHO process.
Additional analysis of 16 submissions of major alcohol industry front groups brought to light a number of surprising and a few shocking strategies to undermine the WHO process to accelerate action on alcohol as public health priority.
Study key messages
The researchers develop key messages for the public and for policy makers, based in the findings of their investigation.
Implications for policy makers
The WHO’s consultative processes for its proposed action plan to strengthen implementation of the Global Alcohol Strategy suggested inadequate implementation of its Framework for Engagement with Non-State Actors (FENSA) to address potential conflicts of interest.
Given the conflicting interests between the alcohol industry and public health, governments should require further safeguards against industry interference in global alcohol policy development.
Governments should equip WHO with the necessary resources and hold WHO accountable for the consistent implementation of processes to minimise the effects of conflicts of interest in global health policy development.
Implications for the public
The WHO continues to consult the alcohol industry in developing global health policy to reduce the harms of alcohol, raising questions about whether the alcohol industry’s conflicting interests with public health are recognized.
This analysis suggests inadequate safeguards against the impacts of conflicts of interest, undermining WHO’s mandate to protect the global population from alcohol harm.
The aim of highlighting this failure is to encourage governments to fund and hold WHO accountable for implementing more robust, transparent and consistent processes to address conflicts of interest and prevent industry interference in global alcohol policy development.