Case Studies

India: Advocates Protest Government Participation in India Tobacco Company Corporate Social Responsibility Event

The Issue

In India, the country’s largest cigarette manufacture, India Tobacco Company (ITC), sponsors “National Recycling Day” in multiple cities where the company operates. During the July 2012 celebration in the city of Chennai, ITC invited 10,000 school children, government officials, and local celebrities to participate. Important government participants scheduled to attend included the Mayor of Chennai, the Speaker of the Tamil Nadu State Legislative Assembly, the State of Tamil Nadu’s Minister for Environment and the Minister for Industries.

The tobacco industry actively engages in corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities in an attempt to develop goodwill among policy makers and the public. Donating to charitable activities and sponsoring cultural and environmental activities are designed by tobacco companies to be “good corporate citizens” and distract from the fact that they sell addictive and deadly products. Articles 5.3 and 13 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) call for Parties to prohibit tobacco industry CSR activities because they inherently promote tobacco use, tobacco companies and tobacco product brands. Furthermore, the FCTC Article 5.3 Guidelines urge Parties to prohibit partnerships between governments and the tobacco industry, including so-called “socially responsible” activities.

Partners

Pasumain Thaayagam, an advocacy group based in the state of Tamil Nadu, worked closely with local volunteers in protest of the ITC event and in particular of government official involvement.

Strategies

  • In immediate response to ITC’s event announcement, Dr. S. Ramadoss, founder of Pasumain Thaayagam, issued a press release condemning the event. He called on government officials and high profile individuals scheduled to appear to not support the tobacco industry, requesting they not participate in the event.
  • Advocates launched a poster campaign throughout Chennai, condemning the event as a violation of the FCTC and calling for government officials to not participate.
  • Over 100 demonstrators protested at the event. Banners included the captions “stop selling death – prohibit so-called CSR activities by the tobacco industry” and “can a seller of death talk about cleanliness?” Demonstrators continued to urge government officials not to support the event.
  • Advocates developed handbills and distributed them to the public and event participants. The handbill provided a participant list and exposed the illegal activity of ITC such as product promotion targeting children.
  • A team from Pasumain Thaayagam spoke with the Speaker of the Tamil Nadu State Legislative Assembly at the end of the event. The team briefed the Speaker on ITC’s ongoing advertisement and promotion of products to children.

Outcomes

  • The press release written by Dr. S. Ramadoss was published in the leading Tamil daily newspapers. As a result of the press release and poster campaign, several scheduled participants did not participate in the industry sponsored event, including the mayor, the Minister for Environment, and the Minister for Industries.
  • The on-site demonstration received both print and television media coverage.
  • Pasumai Thaayagam developed a series of follow-up activities to address ITC’s continued promotion of tobacco products to children and engagement in CSR events.
  • Protests around the July CSR event is just one example of action taken by Pasumai Thaayagam to monitor the tobacco industry and ensure compliance of the tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship law in Tamil Nadu.
  • As a result of Pasumai Thaayagam’s advocacy efforts to delegitimize tobacco industry CSR activities, the Tamil Nadu Educational department issued a government order banning all educational institutions in the state of Tamil Nadu from participating in tobacco promotional events.