British American Tobacco fights back over CSR report

British American Tobacco has vowed to plough on with its corporate social responsibility programme despite criticism that its first-ever CSR report is simply a PR exercise.

The tobacco giant last week published its CSR report - the first of its kind for the tobacco industry - after a series of face-to-face forums designed to establish dialogue with its critics.

More than 130 stakeholder groups refused to take part in BAT's initiative, including anti-smoking campaigning body Action on Smoking, which dismissed the initiative as 'worthless' and 'a PR exercise'.

But BAT this week said it will continue to lead the way in CSR for the tobacco industry and is planning a further 13 reports across the globe this year, with an ongoing rolling programme.

BAT head of CSR Adrian Marshall said: 'We are really promoting it very hard for precisely the reason that we don't want it to be written off as a PR exercise.

'We have been under such attack from pressure groups and regulators that we felt trying to have a rational debate was futile and we needed to demonstrate a different approach,' he added.

The report reveals only four of the 24 UK medical organisations invited to take part attended meetings and just two of 19 political representatives showed willing.

Marshall said: 'We have committed ourselves to this rigorous approach in the hope it will demonstrate to some of the people that don't engage with us that it's good to engage with us and some good will come of this.'

He added: 'We would like to work out how to reduce the risks of smoking and help stop young people smoking - there has to be solutions and we'll only find them with help from our stakeholders, who know more about these issues than we do.'

BAT - which produces cigarette brands such as Dunhill, Lucky Strike, Pall Mall and Kent - was to publish the UK report online this week.

While BAT group companies in 14 countries took part in the programme this year, Marshall said he hopes to extend this to 25 next year.

The company has also set up a formal group CSR governance structure.

'We hope that through this structured dialogue with our stakeholders we are going to get some real solutions emerging to the issues surrounding tobacco,' he added.

Leader, p10.

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