Philippines: PMI hooks the SDGs

20 August 2018:

In the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), countries are to strengthen their implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to achieve the targets. FCTC Article 5.3 guidelines calls on Parties to “denormalise and regulate activities described as “socially responsible” by the tobacco industry”. Philip Morris International (PMI) however is shamelessly hooking the SDG targets as a tactic to elevate its public image.

The 2017 annual report of the PMI’s local cigarette business in the Philippines, Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp (PMFTC), is peppered with the SDG symbols. By handing out scholarships to a handful of students, PMFTC exploits the SDG symbols by hooking itself to SDGs #4, #10 and #11. Its barn upgrade for fuel wood efficiency and save electricity and water consumption is clasped to SDGs #12 and #13.

The tobacco industry’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities have been exposed and condemned worldwide as an exercise to shape their public image. More recently its funding to the ILO’s CSR activities on child labour has been criticised with a global call on the ILO to end this unhealthy collaboration.

In October 2017, PMFTC launched its ‘Child Labour Prevention Forum’ in the Philippines which supposedly examined best practices towards achieving child labour-free communities in tobacco-growing provinces. PMFTC claims to have recruited local and national support to develop regulations to eliminate child labour in Misamis Oriental. But the leaves it continues to use for its cigarettes are not free of child labour. That has not stop PMFTC from promoting its CSR activities by using symbols of SDGs #1, #4 and #11 and aspiring to end child labour by 2025.

The custodian of the SDGs – the UNDP – has a clear policy of non-engagement with the tobacco industry. The UNDP has defined a set of exclusionary criteria outlining those business practices considered unacceptable to the organization, and these include the “manufacture, sale or distribution of tobacco or tobacco products.” The UNDP has also been swift to ensure the tobacco industry does not misuse the SDG symbols as demonstrated when an Indonesia tobacco company Djarum in 2016 was forced to remove its association with the SDGs.

While PMFTC spruced up its public image in 2017 through CSR activities, the promotion of its cigarette business continued with a focus to “make Marlboro the No.1 brand in the Philippines”:

  • Marlboro packaging was made more appealing to give it “a bold and progressive new look” which was conducted through “large-scale adult consumer engagements, events and trade initiatives”;
  • A national “Red Rewards” promotion was implemented where empty packs of Marlboro Red could be exchanged for exclusive premium items.

PMFTC launched more promotions to rejuvenate its other brands, Fortune Menthol and Fortune through incentives for retailers and smokers such as “Kilo Panalo” and “Tropa Trip”.

In reality, the tobacco business undermines many targets under the SDGs as shown in this toolkit, Tobacco Control and the SDGs: An advocacy toolkit and attempts to hijack the SDGs, Hijacking ‘sustainability’ from the SDGs. The Philippines must ban all forms of tobacco advertising, promotions and sponsorship, including at retail outlets. A whole-of-government approach in implementing the FCTC can help unhook the tobacco industry from misusing the SDGs.