This very interesting article by Gary Fooks (corporate criminologist at University of Bath, United Kingdom) and Anna Gilmore (Director of the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, United Kingdom) pulls the curtain back on tobacco companies’ philanthropic efforts. Many parallels can be made to the food industry.
- “Confidential internal emails, memos, and strategy documents give us an unmediated record of what corporate executives were really thinking when they made decisions. And they suggest tobacco industry largesse isn’t driven solely (or even primarily) by philanthropic impulses, but by misanthropy and the desire for political influence. The aim is to prevent evidence-based policies that limit tobacco use – still the number one cause of preventable death in the world.”
This definitely applies to Big Food and Big Soda. For more information, check out the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s “Selfish Giving” report.
- Evidence also emerged in the documents of donations being used to divert attention away from the human cost of tobacco-related disease by highlighting other risks to health. Support for the then Beijing Liver Foundation, for example, was designed to raise the profile of hepatitis, which BAT considered “should be of greater significance to the [People’s Republic of China] and the WHO” than smoking.”
This reminds us slightly of ConAgra’s food safety institute, which has partnered with the Academy to teach the general public how to heat microwaveable food to safe temperatures, among other things. It’s certainly a great distraction from many of ConAgra’s highly processed and minimally nutritious product… and some positive PR to boot (“we care about food safety!”).
- “One document from the late 1990s, for example, highlighted the importance of providing finance for overseas postgraduate students as part of a “long-term investment in potential leaders in developing markets”. Another explained that funding scholarships in tertiary education would create “alumni that will in future be part of the national leadership of the world in which we do business.”
Another parallel: PepsiCo offers a research grant specifically for RDs. Of course, the framing is such that PepsiCo will have no say on what research is conducted, but this comes back to brand loyalty (music to Big Food’s ears!).
- “In 2011, the Foundation for a Healthy America, a nonprofit created by the American Beverage Association (ABA) – the trade association of the soft drinks industry in the US – donated US$10m to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. A report by the Philadelphia Inquirer later revealed that the gift had originally been made when Philadelphia’s City Council was debating a proposed tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.”