Internal constituencies: Industry groups
As in many industries, alcohol producers, distributors and retailers fund, support and participate in a number of collective bodies, which help them to collaborate on matters of shared interest. These have a range of aims – commercial, social and political – pursued through activities such as compiling industry statistics, setting common standards, research, marketing, social projects and promoting favoured policies. The organisations can represent specific beverage categories (e.g. beer, wine, spirits), elements of the value chain (e.g. producers, retailers) or the industry as a whole. They are typically national, but can occasionally be regional or global.
Some draw a distinction between trade associations, which are typically more commercial in focus, and what are called ‘social aspects and public relations organisations’ (SAPROs), whose role is usually framed in terms of social responsibility. The former are longer-standing, and tend to focus on issues such as taxes, marketing and regulation. SAPROs, by contrast, have been increasingly prominent since the 1980s, and have greater direct overlap with public health, addressing medical research, alcohol control policies and underage drinking among other areas. In practice however, there is significant overlap between the two types of organisation.
Among the most notable UK and international alcohol industry trade associations are the following:
British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) – Founded as the Brewers’ Society in 1904, the BBPA represents brewers producing 90% of UK beer and around half of British pubs (including those that do not brew). It engages in policy development and lobbying, media and public relations and compiles industry statistics and guidance.
Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) – The Scotch Whisky Association is the main trade body of Scottish Whisky producers. According to its own summary of its activities, “Public affairs and communications runs through everything the SWA does. We work to advance the global interests and profile of the industry”. The SWA has led the alcohol industry’s legal campaign against the Scottish Government’s introduction of a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol, lodging a formal complaint to the European Commission and seeking a judicial review in the Court of Session in Edinburgh (see our Price factsheet).
Spirits Europe – Spirits Europe is a confederation of the national spirits associations of 34 countries, as well as the leading multinational spirits producers. It seeks to promote the interests of the industry at an EU level, by resisting market regulation, emphasising the sector’s economic contribution and securing advantageous trade arrangements in target markets.
Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) – The WSTA is a membership body of over 340 UK companies producing, importing, exporting and selling wines and spirits. As well as promoting the political goals of the sector, it provides legal, regulatory and tax advice, market research and organises conferences and events for its members.
The leading UK and international SAPROs include:
The Portman Group – Named after the Guinness offices in Portman Square in London where its inaugural meetings were held in 1989, the Portman Group is a body of UK alcohol producers, responsible for self-regulation and promoting its members’ political interests. It publishes and administers the Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Merchandising of Alcoholic Drinks, though it does not adjudicate on complaints, which are referred to an independent panel. It has also been heavily involved in the development and monitoring of the UK Government’s Responsibility Deal, a set of voluntary pledges by businesses to improve public health.
Drinkaware – Spun off from the Portman Group, Drinkaware is an industry-funded charity, providing information and advice to alcohol consumers. It produces resources to advise consumers, runs campaigns to encourage responsible drinking (often in partnership with the alcohol industry), and carries out research into drinking behaviour and attitudes. The Portman Group’s Code of Practice continues to recommend that producers link to Drinkaware’s website in their marketing. The effectiveness of Drinkaware’s activities has been criticised, though, with some arguing that its campaigns may, in fact, encourage drinking.
International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD) – IARD, formerly known the International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP), is an industry-funded research organisation. It was founded by Marcus Grant, recruited from the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1995, with the support of ten of the leading global alcohol producers. It has been described as operating like a shadow WHO unit on alcohol, with David Jernigan observing that “several ICAP publications seemed to attempt to counter or pre-empt similar WHO publications”.
External constituencies: Other sectors
Alcohol-specific industry groups form alliances with broader business organisations from other sectors that have similar interests. For example, the British Retail Consortium, which counts among its members supermarkets which sell alcohol, has been vocal in recent alcohol policy debates. Similarly, advertising associations have worked with the alcohol industry to resist marketing restrictions.
Recent research has also highlighted the links between alcohol producers and other ‘unhealthy commodity’ businesses, such as tobacco, processed foods and sugary drinks. These organisations share similar political challenges, facing regulation on the grounds that they harm public health, and it has been observed that they pursue similar strategies in resisting such regulation (many of which are outlined in figure 1). The most prominent such connection is Altria, which owns both Philip Morris (the largest US tobacco producer, and makers of Marlboro cigarettes), as well as a 27% stake in the brewer SAB Miller. Altria also controls the wine producer Ste Michelle. SABMiller bottles and distributes Coca-Cola in Africa. AB InBev, the world’s largest brewer, which recently agreed a takeover of SABMiller, has close ties to the processed food industry. Private equity firm 3G Capital, one of its major shareholders also owns Burger King and Kraft Heinz.
Analysis of internal tobacco industry documents shows that these mergers can lead to close collaboration, for example between Philip Morris and Miller Brewing Company (the predecessors of Altria and SABMiller). Recognising that the alcohol industry was facing similar health concerns and political pressure to tobacco, there is evidence that Philip Morris passed presentations to Miller, and that third parties were hired to liaise between the two. Similarly, Jiang & Liang show that in the US, the RJ Reynolds tobacco company supported ‘astroturf’ consumer organisations – established to appear as though they are grassroots campaigns, but directed by the industry – that had access to member lists and events from the National Liquor Store Association.
These findings come from documents that tobacco companies have been legally required to release, and so provide a small window into relationships and alliances that are rarely disclosed. Another approach to investigating the connections between companies is to look at shared personnel. Interlocking directorates – when a person affiliated with one organisation sits on the board of directors of another – can be identified from publicly available data. Directors can be appointed from outside companies to provide expertise, advice, build inter-firm relationships and access to policymakers. Thus interlocking directorates are an indication (though not proof) that firms are sharing knowledge and working together. Alcohol, tobacco, soft drinks and processed foods companies share many directors in common. For example, figure 2 shows British American Tobacco’s Chairman Richard Burrows’ directorships – he has numerous links to alcohol producers, particularly Carlsberg, Chivas Bros and Pernod Ricard.
External constituencies: Non-industry allies
Alcohol industry groups regularly collaborate with sympathetic organisations from outside the industry, such as other business associations, consumer groups and think tanks. Many of these groups are seen as ‘front groups’ or ‘astroturf’ organisations. For example, in the US, the lobbying group Berman & Co. operates the Center for Consumer Freedom, which purports to campaign for consumer rights, but is funded by alcohol, tobacco and food companies.
In the UK, think tanks and consultancies have been particularly sought by the alcohol industry for their perceived independence and technical expertise. For example, Oxford Economics, the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) and PriceWaterhouseCoopers have all been commissioned to produce research by industry or supportive groups. The anti-tax pressure group the TaxPayers’ Alliance has supported the WSTA in lobbying for cuts to alcohol duty. The left-wing think tank Demos and CEBR published reports funded by SABMiller that were sceptical of minimum unit alcohol pricing as the policy was being deliberated by the UK parliament. The position of libertarian think tanks such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute is less clear. Though they have written extensively against alcohol regulation, there is limited transparency over whether such work is funded by alcohol companies. Miller et al note that the IEA has “indirectly acknowledged” that it receives some funding from the alcohol industry. However, the IEA’s Christopher Snowdon maintains that the donations it receives from the industry are “small”. Notably, both think tanks have received funding from tobacco companies.
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