Ken Clarke today announced his candidacy for the Conservative party leadership. But public health pressure group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) claimed that his reputation was so badly tarnished by association with BAT, for which he is paid £170,000 per year as deputy chairman, that he had lost the right to hold high office.
BAT is the second largest tobacco multinational in the world with 15% of the world cigarette market, a market which in total causes about 5 million premature deaths every year. This figure is likely to rise to 10 million by 2020, with 70% of these deaths in developing countries. BAT strategy now focuses on exploiting developing country markets in Brazil, South East Asia, China, South Africa, Nigeria and elsewhere – potentially saddling these countries with a public health disaster even greater than AIDS.
Ken Clarke is the BAT Director for Corporate Social Responsibility, an activity which internal BAT memos have described as providing “air cover” and “publicly endorsed amnesty” for the company.
In 2001, during a previous Tory Leadership campaign, Ken Clarke went to Vietnam to help smooth the way for BAT’s joint ventures in that country. A report by the World Health Organisation has estimated that as many as one in ten Vietnamese may die from smoking related disease. BAT internal documents also show that Ken Clarke attended a meeting in Geneva in 1999 at which BAT discussed with its competitors how they might resist advertising bans proposed in a draft international treaty.
Ken Clarke helped broker BAT’s £3.8 million sponsorship for an International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at Nottingham University. The sponsorship caused widespread derision and prompted defections from the University.
Deborah Arnott, Director of ASH said:
“British American Tobacco is one of the most appalling companies in the world – its products are responsible for death and disease on an awesome scale. Ken Clarke has been paid handsomely to give it a cheery and acceptable face and to engage in the cynical exercise of pretending that such a company can ever claim standards of corporate social responsibility. Ken Clarke’s record as one of the world’s leading tobacco lobbyists surely makes him unfit for political leadership”.
Full reports by ASH, Christian Aid and Friends of the Earth on BAT’s international record and its cynical use of CSR to hide the harm caused by its products can be found