Interferences | TAPS

Battle of Minds: A BAT Tactic to Entrap the Youth

Battle of Minds (BoM) is a ‘global internship and business case competition’[1] organized by British American Tobacco (BAT) that is conducted at national, regional and international level. In Bangladesh, British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB) has been organizing BoM since 2004.

How does BoM work?

According to BAT website, students currently studying for a bachelor's or master’s degree in universities and also those “who have completed their studies at their university within the last five years” from universities situated in eligible countries can join the competition through an online registration platform. Since 2021, BATB has also been allowing startups to take part in this competition. BAT arranges roadshows to promote the competition among university students. According to a Daily Star report,

“This year [2022], Battle of Minds reached out to more than 18 universities across the country, hosting 10 Roadshows from 6th June to 10th June.”[2]

The participants have to choose one from three ESG challenges: 1) Environmental Challenges, 2) Social Challenges, and 3) Governance Challenges. In 2022, the ESG themes were respectively circular economy (based on zero waste and emission), workplace digitalization (hybrid work environment in post-pandemic world), and blockchain business potential (use of blockchain technology for tracking supply chain and governance in ESG).[3]

According to BAT website, the Competition is divided into ‘three distinct judging stages’: Local Level. Regional Level and Global Level. As the Daily Star report titled “Battle of Minds 2019 Creating a global platform for future leaders” describes,

“Once a team wins the national round of Battle of Minds, they will have to go through the regional round. The regions are divided into four segments: Asia Pacific, Europe and Northern Africa, Americas and Sub-Saharan Africa and the United States. After winning the regional round that will take place in London, UK, the four regional winners will take part in the global finale where the teams will battle it out to win the Battle of Minds global championship.”

The 2022 edition of Battle of Mind was open for university students, recent graduates and startups in 27 countries, including: Albania, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cameroon, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Ghana, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Japan, Kosovo, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Venezuela, and Vietnam. 

BAT also uploads promotional videos on the competitions using YouTube channels[4].

Covert Brand Promotion

Anti-tobacco organizations allege that BAT organizes BoM to promote itself in guise of recruiting employees and youth leadership building. In its report titled “Battle of Minds: A BATB ill tactic”[5], Tobacco Industry Watch BD suggests,

“BATB, by organizing 'Battle of Minds' is creating a positive image of its harmful product, and at the same time also involving policymakers (Ministers, local representatives, and bureaucrats) in this competition.”

The report also argues that campus-based head-hunting campaigns are also organized by few companies and they also serve the purpose of advertisement and branding of the companies. BoM, as the report argues, is no exception:

“BATB organizes the Battle of Minds to promote itself in the guise of employment generation to a multinational company. During the last 13 years of BoM (2004 - 2016), BATB has employed only a 100 or a little more participant amongst the 15,000 youth participants. However, BATB spends worth crores of local currencies in arranging university roadshows, decorating with banners-festoons, programs in five star- rated hotels, traveling to places with promotional activities including entertainment and media, etc. ...... Few of the multinational companies organize this type of campus-based competition. However, these organizations organize such programs by their own name. This type of program creates brand image and at the same time promotes their company image.”

BATB’s managers and other top officials often attend the roadshows and ‘virtual lobby’ organized to promote the event and attract registrations. These managers are often former students of the universities where the road show is being held. Thus, BATB presents its managers as success stories among university students, hiding its role in hundreds of thousands of deaths and disabilities. BATB also invites other expert panelists, involved in different aspects of ESG sectors, who speak live on BAT's Global Careers page on Facebook.

BoM’s grooming sessions, road shows, seminars and grand finale events are often attended by influential politicians, policymakers, govt. high officials, media personalities, and business leaders. For example, the finale of 'Battle of Minds 2014' took place on December 8, 2014 at Radisson Blue Hotel in Dhaka. High government officials (current and former) including the then Secretary of the Ministry of Industries, the then Managing Director of Bangladesh Investment Board, a former Defense Secretary and a former Secretary of Liberation War Affairs Ministry were present in the gala event. The following year, on December 7, 2015. high government officials present in the Finale event included the then Secretary of the Ministry of Industries, the then Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, the then Editor of Dhaka Tribune, the then President of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) et al.

The finale of the 16th edition of 'Battle of Minds' took place on December 14, 2019. The then Senior Secretary of the Ministry of Education attended the event as chief guest. In his speech he said,

“Organizations like BAT Bangladesh and others need to come forward with such good initiatives for sustainable development of the country.”[6]

The Planning minister of Bangladesh attended the virtual grand finale of 2021 BoM. [7]

All the grand finales and other gala events of BoM have been covered heavily by the media, with popular dailies dedicating entire pages on the events.

It should be noted that Tobacco Industry Interference Index of both 2018[8] and 2019[9] listed award ceremonies and such events as ‘occasions of unnecessary interaction’ that facilitates tobacco companies’ interference into policymaking.

The Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) Act, 2005 (Amended 2013) Section 5.1. (C) completely bans advertising of tobacco products, sponsoring competition or providing gifts. As per Section 5.3, the use of a tobacco company's name, sign, trademark, symbol, to participate in social activities is also a punishable offence. Violation of this provision may result in punishment of monetary fine not exceeding BDT 100,000 or a simple imprisonment not exceeding three months or both the penalties. However, images are available online where participants of BoM 2014 posed in front of a poster with BATB logo visible on top at the Gorges Café and Restaurant.

BoM events are often met with huge backlash from anti-tobacco activists and organizations. Human chain events were organized by such organizations on numerous occasions. Activists’ protest against BoM also saw a few success cases. Following protests from anti-tobacco activists, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) stopped a scheduled BoM road-show on 25 October 2017[10]. The University of Dhaka (DU) also stopped a BoM road show after delegates of anti-tobacco organizations made their urge to the vice chancellor on 1 September, 2019[11].

The tobacco control wing of the govt., National Tobacco Control Cell (NTCC), a body under Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) also sent a letter[12] on 22 September 2019, addressed to Chairman, University Grants Commission (UGC), the apex body of all public, private and international universities of Bangladesh on the issue of tobacco company-sponsored programs in universities. The letter argued that tobacco companies are conducting a number of campaigns such as Battle of Minds (BoM), Exceed Campus Ambassadors and other seminars as means to directly or indirectly advertise and promote tobacco and    requested UGC to take all necessary measures to stop tobacco companies’ campaigns in universities.

Following the letter from NTCC, on 3 October 2019, UGC sent a letter addressed to the Registrars of 145 universities of the country through which it, in fact, forwarded a letter[13] sent by Bangladesh Anti Tobacco Alliance (BATA). The letter instructed university authorities to take necessary measures ‘to stop promotion of tobacco behind the Battle of Mind event’, not to stop Battle of Mind itself.  However, according to November 2019 monthly e-newsletter of Tobacco Industry Watch BD, only days after sending the letter, a University Grant Commission (UGC) member attended a grooming event of BATB-sponsored 'Battle of Mind 2019'[14] as a special guest. The Deputy Minister of Education was also present in the event as its chief guest.