British American Tobacco's (BAT) record on social and environmental issues does not match the company's rhetoric on corporate social responsibility, says a new report produced jointly by Christian Aid, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and Friends of the Earth. The report: BAT's Big Wheeze, was presented last week to directors and shareholders at the company's annual general meeting in London. It says the company is failing to guarantee the health and safety of impoverished farmers who grow its tobacco, risking damage to the environment through pesticide use and deforestation and actively encouraging smoking in poor countries. The report points to World Health Organisation figures indicating a doubling of global smoking-related deaths to 10 million by 2020, 7 million in the developing world. "BAT has in recent years championed corporate social responsibility but there is a yawning gap between what the company says on CSR and the reality, especially in developing countries," said Andrew Pendleton, senior policy officer at Christian Aid. "The fact BAT is selling a controversial and harmful product is widely known, but the company's relationship with poor family farmers and its impact on the environment in developing countries is also causing major problems." BAT's big wheeze highlights stories from Brazil and Kenya, where Christian Aid has been investigating the company's relationship with contract farmers. "The voices of farmers who have suffered because of the lack of protective clothing or who fear the process by which BAT values their tobacco are not heard in BAT's own social reports," said Mr Pendleton. "This is why we've joined forces with ASH and Friends of the Earth to produce an alternative report about the company's social and environmental performance." One of the developing world voices in the report is that of Marcos Rochinski, a former tobacco farmer and chair of the Department of Rural and Socio-economic Studies (DESER) based in Curitiba, Brazil - a partner organisation of Christian Aid's. "This year, Souza Cruz [BAT's subsidiary] is offering even lower prices [to farmers for tobacco] than last year and there is no improvement in the farmers' conditions," said Mr Rochinski. "It is so bad that the farmers are refusing to sell Souza Cruz their tobacco." Christian Aid, ASH and Friends of the Earth are calling for new laws to hold corporations to account so that companies such as BAT cannot in future champion CSR on the one hand, while failing to address fundamental social and environmental issues on the other.
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