The tobacco industry is seeking to change its unethical public image by focusing efforts towards positioning itself as an untainted and professional entrepreneur. Over the years the tobacco industry has been ignorant of ethical business principles. The three main principles broken by the tobacco industry include the principle of transparency that calls on loyalty and truthfulness, the dignity principle that calls for respect of individual health, and the fairness principle (Campbell, 2011). One way which the tobacco industry is employing to improve its public image is through corporate social responsibility. In this context, the concept of corporate social responsibility has been adopted by two tobacco companies namely, Phillip Morris and British American Tobacco.
Corporate social responsibility is usually looked at as a concept where businesses, companies, and industries integrate concerns in social and environmental issues in their everyday interactions. In most developed countries, it is almost completely accepted, but it is still emerging in developing countries. Tobacco smoking is viewed as a vice by many people, and this is being fueled by the outcry from most health experts about the negative effects of this vice. Thus, improved public relations and customer loyalty are among other advantages why this industry views the adoption of corporate social responsibility as important. Ethical public image or rather an identity and reputation are important factors in any business.
According to Friedman (2004, 821) the tobacco industry uses corporate social responsibility tactics to mask its contradictions in its operations. However, this goes against one of the global standard caudexes that is the transparency principle that calls on truthfulness and disclosure. Apparently, such companies are aware of the negative effects of tobacco yet they try to mask such effects by their non-informative adverts. This applies not only to tobacco users but also to secondary smokers of the same.
However, this is changing as the world is becoming more globalized and more educated. Thus, the tobacco industry has tried to adopt the concept of corporate social responsibility to correct this. A good example in such a case is the previous advertisement by the British American company where they never warned about the negative effects of tobacco but lately, they have introduced an additional line saying that consumption of tobacco is harmful to the user’s health. Several efforts by the World Health Organization to include secondary effects have been falling on deaf ears.
Palazzo and Richter (2005, 349) show the difficulties the tobacco industry has been going through over the years as a trial to satisfy corporate social responsibility. The tobacco industry is known to contradict the global business principle of dignity due to its health implications on individual health and safety. This principle calls on respect for individual health, safety, privacy, and confidentiality. Apparently, it is expected that companies protect or make sure that their products protect such aspects of their customers.
The health risks attributed to the utilization of tobacco are quite severe and ruin the user’s health eventually. Several authors not only look at dignity in the sense of an individual, but they also stress the fact that an individual and the environment are one and the same thing. Hirschhorn (2004, 448) states that the first attempt by the Phillip Morris company in being transparent with their consumers came after many lawsuits.
The company formed strategies to deal with environmental issues like waste management and formed several goals to this end. One of the goals was to protect the rights of smoking adults, which according to Palazzo and Richter (2005, 400) was a way of ensuring that the global business indexes were also addressed. Participation in global corporate social responsibility groups has enabled the tobacco industry to learn the operations of other industries in eliminating harm to individuals and the environment. However, there is still controversy on whether the tobacco industry really participates in such activities for public relations or it really has an intention of changing for the sake of the tobacco users. The author states that it would be important to view this from a results point of view.
Another thing that the tobacco industry has been accused of is manipulating research so that the correct results are not publicized, and the company’s image is kept (Friedman, 825). In this way, the author states that the principle of dignity that also involves good use of force is overlooked. A prime example, in this case, is the Phillip Morris Company, which had several articles written to praise tobacco and its usage. This is an issue that is still under controversy because, despite the effort by this company to publish their own research, distrust by health experts is still high.
The other principle is that of fair dealings where the tobacco industry has been accused of unfairness in aspects such as tariffs and labor. Data collected by researchers on this issue revealed that child labor is involved in the production of tobacco and tariff inequalities. The tobacco industry adopted the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility in an effort to deal with this. A prime example is the reduction of tariffs by the Malaysian government on the tobacco crop in order to improve the lives of tobacco farmers.
Likewise, Otanez and Glantz (2011, 405) explore how some governments have dealt with the supply chain management sector of tobacco in the process of adopting Corporate Social responsibility. British American Tobacco together with other organizations has eliminated child labor to some extent as a way of improving social life. The responsibility of protecting the environment is handled by, self-reporting mechanisms for leaf suppliers commonly known as “the good agricultural program”. The aim of this initiative is to show responsibility in the global business codex known as the responsiveness principle (Barraclough and Morrow, 2008,126).
Another global principle that is shown to have been tackled is the fairness principle where corporate social responsibility is also evident. This is an issue critically and explicitly explained by Otanez and Glantz (2011, 406). To make their operations simple, the tobacco industry has partnered with affiliated organizations whose main purpose is to improve and attempt to make standards uniform. In this way as Friedman (2004, 824) explains, the global codex of fairness will also have been accomplished.
In conclusion, the tobacco industry is attempting to change its business, however, Palazzo and Richter (2005, 351) state that corporate social responsibility is not going to change the health harm caused by tobacco. They look at the concept as a misguided approach because companies like these hold the belief that they can gain public trust through corporate social responsibility. Nevertheless, literature on tobacco business maintains that the tobacco industry goes against all the indexes of global business, and it would be very difficult for it to fully adopt corporate social responsibility despite the efforts made so far.
Barraclough, S and Morrow, M. 2008. “A Grim Contradiction: The Practice and Consequences of Corporate Social Responsibility by British American Tobacco in Malaysia.” Social Science and Medicine, 1784-1796.
Campbell, N. 2011. Business academic skills, 4th edn (revised). Sydney: Pearson Australia.
Friedman, L, C. 2004. “Tobacco Industry Use of Corporate Social Responsibility Tactics as a Sword and a Shield on Secondhand Smoke Issues.” Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, 820-827.
Hirschhorn, N. 2004. “Corporate Social Responsibility and the Tobacco Industry: Hope or Hype?” Tobacco Control 13:447–453.
Otanez, M., and Glantz, A, S. 2011. “Social Responsibility in Tobacco Production? Tobacco Companies Use of Green Supply Chains to Obscure the Real Costs of Tobacco Farming”. Tobacco Control, 20: 403-411.
Palazzo, G., and Richter, U. 2005. “CSR Business as Usual? The Case of the Tobacco Industry”. Journal of Business Ethics, 61: 387–401.