Tobacco companies often use trade bodies (i.e., business associations, chambers of commerce, etc.) to safeguard their business interest and interfere in policymaking. This predicament is particularly true for Bangladesh where tobacco companies’ top officials are often found in the leading positions of influential trade bodies.
Global and Regional Experience
US Chamber of Commerce and its international branches all over the world, known as AmCham, shows the extent of how tobacco industry exploits such platforms for its interests. Between 2009 and 2015, this US-based trade body reportedly interfered in tobacco control policies of Nepal, Jamaica, Burkina Faso, Uruguay, Moldova, the Philippines, El Salvador, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Croatia, Estonia, Ireland, Kosovo, European Union and the United Kingdom.
According to a 2015 blogpost by Tobacco Control (BMJ), the US Chamber employs a three-pronged approach to safeguard tobacco companies’ interests:
Bullying Governments: US Chamber and local AmCham chapters often bully governments that are on the verge of introducing major tobacco control legislations. The Chamber often brings allegation that adopting such measures (i.e., a ban on tobacco advertisement, promotion, and sponsorship aka TAPS) would amount to a violation of international trade agreements, intellectual property rights etc. and cause a decrease in US investment in that country and a spike in illicit tobacco trade leading to revenue loss. For example, in 2011, as the African nation of Burkina Faso passed a law introducing mandatory Graphic Health Warning (GHW) covering 60 percent of tobacco packs, the US Chamber wrote a letter addressed to the Prime Minister which alleged that implementation of such measure would violate international trade agreements, intellectual property rights and entangle Burkina Faso in a lengthy and costly trade litigation which it could not afford.
Pitying One Country against Another: US Chamber has been seen prompting countries to initiate trade disputes on behalf of tobacco industry. For example, in 2009, as Australia was formulating its standard packaging regulations, Ukraine initiated a case against the measure at the World Trade Organization (WTO) after receiving complaint from Ukraine AmCham office.
Lobbying against Tobacco-related Exceptions in International Trade Agreements: The US Chamber of Commerce was very active in preserving the rights of tobacco industry to sue countries under the conditions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
In addition, the US Chamber of Commerce and its global AmCham chapters, despite being a private trade association, give the impression of being an official part of the US government. In some countries, US government and diplomatic officials hold honorary positions of AmCham chapters, thus adding to the misconception.
Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) is another example of how trade bodies propagate tobacco industry arguments and oppose as well as interfere in public health policymaking on tobacco industry’s behalf. Indian Tobacco Company Limited (ITC), the largest cigarette manufacturer of India, is an associate member of FICCI. As of 4 April 2022, Mr. Anil Rajput, the Head of ITC’s Corporate Affairs Division, leads three major FICCI committees: FICCI CASCADE (Committee on Anti-Smuggling and Counterfeiting), FICCI IPR (Committee on Intellectual Property Rights), and FICCI Corporate Law.
FICCI CASCADE has been found to be particularly vocal in highlighting the impact of illicit trade (including illicit tobacco trade) in India. In 2017, FICCI published a report that claims illicit trade fuels terror financing and organized crimes, and suggested that taxes should be moderated to combat influx of smuggled goods which also includes tobacco. In 2016, the year India introduced 85 percent pictorial health warning on tobacco packaging, FICCI CASCADE released a report claiming a "90 percent rise in consumption of smuggled cigarettes in India" in the previous decade. However, an independent study on illicit tobacco trade in India, published in 2018 in BMJ Tobacco Control, found the share of illicit cigarettes to be only 2.73 percent.
FICCI was also part of a network of organizations that tobacco industry mobilized to oppose India's pictorial warning regulation. It also lobbied to allow tobacco farmers and industry trade bodies to attend the Seventh WHO FCTC Conference of Parties (COP7), for the sake of "sufficient representation from all relevant stakeholders".
The Bangladesh Scenario
Cigarette manufacturing companies of Bangladesh, particularly British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB) have largely been successful in infiltrating the country’s prestigious trade bodies. Being a part of such trade bodies allows tobacco companies to gain access to policymakers and government bodies while hiding the specific nature of its trade. For example, in 2019, the Chairman of BATB, Mr. Golam Mainuddin attended the pre-budget meeting with National Board of Revenue (NBR) as the Vice-President of Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (MCCI). Officials from tobacco companies also attend events arranged by trade bodies where influential policymakers and government officials are invited. Moreover, tobacco companies also receive awards and recognitions from trade bodies which normalize and legitimize the tobacco trade despite having a devastating impact on the nation’s public health and economy. In addition to trade bodies, tobacco companies in Bangladesh are also deeply involved with government-affiliated professional bodies.
Mr. Golam Mainuddin, the current Chairman of BATB, was one of the Directors of FBCCI in 2019-2020 term. According to BATB’s 2021 Annual Report, he is still holding this position. In 2018, Mr. Mainuddin was also the Director-in-Charge of FBCCI’s Education related standing committee., held the position of the Vice-Chairman of Intellectual Property (IP) Committee of FBCCI, reports the 2021 Annual Report of BATB.
FBCCI is a strategic partner of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC) which has replaced the pro-tobacco Commonwealth Business Council in 2014 and also has pro-tobacco lobbyist firm in its Advisory Council.
As of 6 June 2022, Mr. Golam Mainuddin who has been the Chairman of BATB since August 2008 is also one of the Directors of MCCI. He also held the position of Vice-President of MCCI, according to 2021 Annual Report of BATB. Mr. Mainuddin also heads the Chamber Finance & Membership Committee and is also a member of Environment & Climate Change Committee. Several other top officials of BATB are also members of MCCI's different committees. Mr. Sorwar Alam, Head of Taxation at BATB, is also a member of MCCI's Tariff and Taxation Committee. Mr. Khaled Rahman of BATB is a member of International Relations, Trade & Fair Committee. Ms. Mubina Asaf, the Head of Legal and External Affairs, is also a member of Environment & Climate Change Committee. Md. Azizur Rahman FCS, Head of BATB's Public Affairs & Company Secretary, is member of MCCI's 4IR and Sustainable Graduation from LDC Committee and Corporate Governance & CSR Committee.
In 2014, MCCI awarded BATB in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) category. In 2019, during a pre-budget meeting with the National Board of Revenue (NBR), Mr. Golam Mainuddin, as MCCI Vice President, presented a keynote paper where he raised demands for reduction of corporate tax, increasing tax-free ceiling for individual taxpayers, and waiving the provision for imposing double tax on companies. During his tenure as Vice-President of MCCI, Mr. Mainuddin reportedly paid courtesy visit to the Minister of Industry, the Minister of Commerce, the Minister of Planning and Private Industry and Investment Adviser to the PM.
The current (June 2022) Managing Director of BATB, Mr. Shehzad Munim, held the position of FICCI's President in 2017-2019 term. On 21 November 2021, FICCI organized an event to commemorate the 50 years of Bangladesh’s Independence. The event was attended by the planning minister as the chief guest and also the Private Industry and Investment Adviser to Prime Minister as special guest. Mr. Munim was one of the discussants in the event.
Mr. Md. Azizur Rahman FCS, the Head of Public Affairs & Company Secretary of BATB, held the position of the Director General of Intellectual Property Association of Bangladesh (IPAB), according to 2017 and 2021 Annual Report of BATB. Ms. Mubina Asaf, the Head of Legal and External Affairs of BATB, is a member of Executive Committee of IPAB and holds the position of Treasurer. BATB itself is a Corporate Member of IPAB.
As of June 2022, Mr. Golam Mainuddin, the current Chairman of BATB, is one of the Directors of IIFC, an advisory body of the Government of Bangladesh under the Economic Relations Division (ERD) of the Ministry of Finance.
The entry of Japan Tobacco Inc. (JTI) into Bangladesh's cigarette market was facilitated by JETRO. JETRO sponsored popular singer Tahsan Khan's trip to Japan. A travel show Footsteps of Tagore constructed based on the trip and Rabindranath Tagore’s famous travelogue Japan Jatri. The travel show was heavily promoted using the brand color of JTI Bangladesh.
Involvement in Professional Bodies
Tobacco companies are involved with some of the government-affiliated and influential professional bodies of Bangladesh.
In 2021, ICSB bestowed BATB with the ICSB Corporate Governance Award 2020. BATB’s 2021 Annual Report says, “Managing Director of BATB Mr. Shehzad Munim, Independent Director Mr. K H Masud Siddiqui and Head of Legal & External Affairs Ms. Mubina Asaf, received the award from the Hon’ble Minister of Commerce Mr. Tipu Munshi and the Chairman of Bangladesh Securities & Exchange Commission (BSEC) Mr. Shibli Rubayat Ul Islam”. BATB also won ICSB Award on Manufacturing category in 2018 and received award from the then Finance Minister. BATB has been receiving such awards from ICSB every year since 2014.
According to 2021 BATB Annual Report, Md. Azizur Rahman FCS, Head of BATB's Public Affairs & Company Secretary holds the position of Senior Vice President of ICSB, and Chairman of the Education Committee in ICSB.
ICMAB has been promoting BATB as a model for corporate governance with its "Best Corporate Award". The professional body has been selecting BATB for this award each year since 2014.
In 2021, BATB received "ICAB National Awards for Best Presented Annual Report & Governance" and received the award from the commerce minister. The company also received this award each year since at least 2016.
Bangladesh Supply Chain Excellence Awards was first introduced in 2018 as joint collaboration of IPDC Finance Limited and Bangladesh Supply Chain Management Society (BSCMS). BATB has received this award in 2019 and 2020 under different categories.