Tobacco industry’s CSR activities still an issue in PH despite improvement in interference index

While the Philippines has made significant improvement to control tobacco industry interference two years after it had ranked high among Southeast Asian countries that reported industry influence, much is still needed to be done to protect the government from unnecessary interaction with cigarette makers.

Citing results of the third Tobacco Industry Interference Index organized by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), New Vois Association of the Philippines (NVAP) President Emer Rojas said based on the report, the tobacco industry still finds ways to wield influence in government affairs in many countries through corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities.

The report, the world's first ever assessment of tobacco interference in government, and the third one by SEATCA since 2014, reveals that the industry invests huge money on CSR activities to circumvent laws regulating their business and gain access to public officials in charge of implementing tobacco control policies.

"We have a Civil Service Commission guideline that prohibits unnecessary interaction between government and the tobacco industry. Despite that, the industry is able to continue to exercise some influence in government affairs through fake CSR using legitimate business organizations and foundations that lend support to local government units," Rojas said.

Rojas was referring to the CSC's Joint Memorandum Circular 2010-01, a code of conduct banning all government officials from receiving or supporting tobacco industry-related CSR activities.

SEATCA noted that while more than 200 national and local government units, including educational institutions and government controlled corporations, have supported the memorandum and drastically reduced unnecessary interaction with the tobacco industry, it still was able to contribute to LGUs through the American Chamber of Commerce which fronts for Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corporation (PMFTC) and Mighty Corporation's Wong Chu King Foundation (WCKF).

SEATCA revealed that as ASEAN countries implement stricter bans on tobacco advertising and promotion, cigarette giants such as Philip Morris International have recently increased their CSR spending in the region.

"Philip Morris International (PMI), for example, increased its spending in three countries (i.e., Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand) in the ASEAN region from USD 1.5 million in 2009 to USD 2.5 million in 2015," the report said.

"PMI spends the lion's share of its CSR handouts in Indonesia and the Philippines, about USD 6 million and USD 1.8 million respectively, which are also its largest cigarette markets among ASEAN countries," added the report.

Rojas said the tobacco industry should be banned from using their "fake" CSR activities because they run counter against the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control guidelines signed by member countries including the Philippines.

"We should encourage legitimate CSR activities and ban fake CSR of the tobacco companies. They need not give us assistance coming from the profits derived from selling products that kill people," Rojas said.

Source: Philippine Information Agency