Multinationals: Force for good?

Hello There 🙂

First post ever and I am excited! As usual there are a billion and one issues that have captured the attention of the international community and I was at a loss for what to highlight. I settled on the little known battle between multinational tobacco firms and countries that attempt to curtail the negative impacts of their products. While there are merits and demerits to TNC/MNC involvement in human rights issues, it would appear that the African continent receives the short end of the stick in such transactions. It is my hope that this article contributes to creating awareness as well as spurring interesting conversations on the same. (Sources from which this short post is heavily adapted are at the end.)








A case study of Kenya reveals an unfortunate pattern of TNC’s using their economic power to steer political decisions in their favor. This, at the expense of the lives of the weaker state’s citizens. It would appear that existing international law should be more meaningfully enforced as opposed to coming up with more regulations to dictate TNC behavior. This would ensure that any action contrary to the norms in place will have disagreeable consequences and thus deter TNC’s from engaging in them.


It is generally accepted that TNC’s remain subservient to the dictates of the state in which they operate. The case study of Kenya reveals that when the country in question is less economically secure than the TNC in operation, then this asymmetry of power tends to negatively impact the weaker state. Here we will see how the multi-million dollar corporation British American Tobacco (BAT) attempted to circumvent the Ministry of Health’s attempts to introduce measures that would reduce the harmful effects of tobacco on the populace. (The small West African country of Togo also exemplifies the same. This can be viewed in John Oliver commentary.)

Tobacco, this is an agricultural crop grown for the purpose of eventually producing cigarettes. According to America’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) agency, tobacco is projected to cause 8 million deaths annually by 2030. Increasing legislation, awareness campaigns and media attention on the health risks associated with tobacco use have seen the market shrink. However, the African continent stands out as fast becoming the largest market for tobacco companies.


The Al Jazeera documentary reveals that Kenya makes 100 million USD annually from tobacco sales and provides employment to some 80,000 people, particularly farmers who produce the crop. Furthermore it cites Kenyans as having purchased 8 billion cigarettes in 2014 alone. While this positively means mega profits for the tobacco companies, the health sector is not impressed. Kenya’s Ministry of Health sought to curtail the impact of cigarette sales.

Some of the legislative measures being advocated included graphic images to warn the smokers, a ban on advertising of cigarettes and an additional tax of 2% on every packet. British American Tobacco (BAT) was quick to circumvent any regulations that would negatively impact its bottom line. To this end, the company’s strategy seemed to be negotiating with the health sector officials. Instead of inviting these officials to the local BAT headquarters (a mere twenty minute distance), BAT chose to host these officials ‘free of charge’ at their London based office. Beyond this, a trip to a beautiful seaside resort of was an alternative venue picked to hash out concerns about unfriendly product control regulations.


The World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control represents evidence based tobacco control measures. Effective implementation of these controls is the legal obligation of states that have ratified this treaty. Moreover it contributes to goal three of the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, ‘ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.’ Kenya it appears was the first African country to ratify it. It is encouraging to note that Kenya has largely adhered to its requirements by protecting its citizens from the “commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry.”

As of March 2015, the African Union (AU) was in its seventh year of celebrating ‘Healthy Lifestyle Day.’ This was a crucial opportunity to address not only the effects of smoking but specifically its prevalence among the youth. Africa by and large has a young population and they significantly contribute to the growth and development agenda. Aside from this, the AU Commission’s chairlady, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini made a keynote address a few years earlier at Harvard University in which she tackled the theme of “Governance of Tobacco in the 21st Century.” These illustrations serve to show that the question of tobacco is a focus of not only the Western community but Africans themselves.


Of note, is the fact that the proposed regulations were as of March this year adopted by Kenya’s High Court. Maureen Murimi points out that, “the new regulations will among other things govern advertising for tobacco products as well as the size of health warnings on cigarette packages.” As we speak, the changes have not yet taken effect but this is because manufacturers have been given a grace period (6 months) before they are enforceable.

Looking forward to different perspectives on this. Thanks for reading!




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