Weekly comment

A sobering thought for the alcohol industry

Much against my own better judgement, there are some issues it
seems, where corporate social responsibility must really live up to
its name and truly look after its consumers.

Growing concerns over what and how we consume products, means that the industry must forsake profits for responsibility, or face having the government decide how they can operate. One issue in particular illustrates this point - irresponsible drinking. Current estimates suggest that 600,000 Europeans die every year from alcohol-related problems and that this costs EU members €200bn annually according to World Health Organisation figures. In hoping to address this, the general governmental response has been pretty much - we need to drink responsibly! The problem of course, as even the most social drinker can occasionally sympathise, is that drinking and responsibility just don't really fit, a point best proven by the bewildering popularity of karaoke. Industry proposals to encourage responsible drinking, in-line with EU recommendations, predominantly concern how alcohol is promoted. They include drawing attention to the danger of one's health, or preventing the promotion of drunken tomfoolery. The measures are supported by a number of leading industry players and associations like Diageo and Heineken, but are they truly addressing the issue amongst core drinkers? I feel they are not. Manufacturers of alcohol must look beyond simply restricting advertising practices and make some difficult choices if they wish to retain their freedom to operate unhindered by legislation. The alternative choices are somewhat totalitarian, with ideas ranging from reformulating beverages to contain less alcohol, to perhaps even imposing bar and retail limits, all of which will indeed be costly. But responsibility after all, tends to be a bit of drag. If alcohol manufacturers therefore wish to continue promoting how corporately responsible they are, they must truly live up to the definition and be pro-active in the way they deal with pressing food issues like irresponsible drinking. To be fair, whether just to appease shareholders and consumers alike, or out of good old fashioned altruism, the industry is already working with the government over some measures to prevent excessive drinking. However, if the dangers to public health are not enough for major companies to act on, its own safety could prove slightly more sobering. Failure to stem alcohol related deaths and anti-social behaviour are likely to lead to even greater government scrutiny, and eventually even stronger legislation on their operations. An example of this is smoking bans, which have been adopted from the US to France's cafe culture, as governments force their own form of corporate social responsibility on business. If the industry's current measures fail to stem concerns over alcohol consumption, it may soon foot the bill for more stringent measures on the government's own terms. But the same choices must be faced by everyone operating in the food and beverage industry. Either revaluate their operations, or face the nanny-state stepping in to show us how to best live our lives. Now there is a hangover you really wouldn't fancy. Neil Merrett is a staff reporter for BeverageDaily.com, and has written on a variety of issues for publications in both the UK and France. If you would like to comment on this article, please e-mail Neil.Merrett 'at' decisionnews.com

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