Corporate Social Responsibility – Part III: The US
In this, the final part of our management briefing for March, Ben Cooper casts his eye over the corporate social responsibility activity in the US.
With the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about to embark on its fourth review of alcohol advertising since 1999, now is an important time for the drinks industry in the US to project a strong social responsibility profile.
Advertising codes of practice feature prominently in the social responsibility platforms of the major alcohol trade associations, but educational initiatives such as server programmes are also a focus.
The different producer organisations and the three-tier distribution system means there is a multiplicity of responsibility initiatives across the industry. As observed in the first part of this report, the US industry sometimes risks being seen as disunited. Spirits companies believe the wine and beer sectors have at times looked to set them apart from spirits as being less pernicious, while the current debate over inter-state wine shipping has resulted in tensions between suppliers and wholesalers over alcohol policy.
Presenting a concerted voice on key responsibility issues has clear advantages. However, on the other hand, different organisations running their own responsibility initiatives means they can in theory concentrate on programmes and activities that are particularly relevant to their membership.
There is also some collaborative CSR action, notably the support across the alcohol sector for the FTC-backed 'We Don’t Serve Teens' programme.
We Don’t Serve Teens
'We Don't Serve Teens' is a national campaign to prevent underage drinking, coordinated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The commission maintains the website but the initiative is supported by a multi-stakeholder coalition of public and private organisations, including major alcohol industry trade associations such as the Beer Institute, Wine Institute, DISCUS, the Century Council and Wine and Spirit Wholesalers of America.
The programme is also supported by the US Department of the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association, the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators, the National Liquor Law Enforcement Association, the National Consumers League, Students Against Destructive Decisions, National Organizations for Youth Safety, and the Responsible Retailing Forum.
The website includes a range of relevant information on the prevention of underage drinking including information on age-related alcohol legislation with links to specific state legislation and guides for parents and the trade on how to reduce teenage access to alcohol.
DISCUS and the Century Council
The US spirits trade body, DISCUS, points to a long history of promoting responsible business. The organisation first established a voluntary Code of Good Practice only months after the repeal of Prohibition.
Along with supporting initiatives aimed at promoting sensible consumption and tackling underage drinking, the organisation has a comprehensive advertising standards code.
The DISCUS Code of Responsible Practices for Beverage Alcohol Advertising and Marketing was last updated in 2010. The organisation also regularly issues reports regarding its advertising complaints process. The DISCUS website has links to other sites offering advice about the alcoholic content of standard drinks and alcohol and health, as well as a link to the US spirits social aspects organisation, the Century Council.
Founded in 1991, the Century Council describes itself as "a leader in the fight against drunk driving and underage drinking" and aims to "promote responsible decision making regarding beverage alcohol".
Funded by Bacardi USA, Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Brown-Forman, Constellation Brands, Diageo, Hood River Distillers, Pernod Ricard USA and Sidney Frank Importing, the Century Council describes itself as an "independent, not-for-profit organisation".
It is chaired by former Congresswoman Susan Molinari and governed by an independent National Advisory Board comprised of senior professionals from the worlds of education, medicine, government and business. The Century Council works with law enforcement agencies, public officials, educators, parents and students.
The Century Council claims its efforts have made "a strong impact" in the reduction of underage drinking and drink-driving.
Responsibility Initiatives listed on the Beer Institute website comprise its advertising and marketing code; server programmes; college programmes; joint project and community outreach; programmes aimed at parents; and responsible drinking programmes.
Server education and training includes the Driver License Booklet, produced annually in partnership with law enforcement agencies, aimed at helping to check the validity of IDs.
The 'Good Sport' programme, meanwhile, helps stadium operators, team owners, and concessionaires prevent disruptive crowd behaviour at stadium events, street festivals, concerts and other special event.
Beer Institute describes its 'Learn2Serve' initiative as "a leading provider of government-accredited online certification training courses and employer learning management and reporting systems". The programme caters for hotel, restaurant, bar, convenience store and grocery employees and managers.
BI says brewers support the 'Guidelines for Alcohol Beverage Marketing on College and University Campuses', developed by the Inter-Association Task Force on Campus Alcohol Issues. The guidelines help ensure that campus beer marketing activities are conducted responsibly along with the approval of appropriate campus officials. The brewing industry has been a charter sponsor of National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week, an annual week of education and awareness activities held on more than 3,000 campuses, since its inception in 1984.
The Wine Institute, which represents California wine producers, prides itself on having first adopted informal principles of good advertising practice as far back as 1949.
Today, its Code of Advertising Standards is aimed at encouraging continued high standards in order that California wine advertising may increasingly be viewed as making “a positive contribution to society”.
The Code covers all forms of advertising including online, direct mail, point-of-sale, outdoor, displays, sponsorships, promotions, radio, television, motion picture and print, as well as labelling and packaging. The Code was last amended in 2005.
National Beer Wholesalers Association
Sharing best practice is a key plank in the responsibility platform of the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) which represents the interests of the 2,850 licensed, independent beer distributors in the US.
The organisation has created a website specifically to provide information on responsibility initiatives undertaken by its members. There is a link from the main NBWA website, where members can also download posters related to responsible consumption.
Information on responsibility initiatives organised by members also appears in an NBWA publication entitled Promoting Responsibility in our Communities.
In its annual report, NBWA states: “Beer distributors are leaders in their communities as small business owners, civic activists, parents and philanthropists. They play a vital role in their communities by sponsoring a vast array of programmes that promote responsible consumption. The programmes range from free taxi rides home for restaurant patrons who do not have a designated driver, to alcohol-free after-prom events and educational materials to help parents talk to their children about illegal underage drinking.”
NBWA produces several responsibility resources aimed at curbing underage drinking and drunk driving, including a guide to spotting fake IDs, a Guide to Responsible Party Planning and public service announcements (PSAs) for specific public holidays throughout the year. These resources are available on the NBWA website.
Wine and Spirit Wholesalers of America
Wine and Spirit Wholesalers of America (WSWA), which represents the wholesale tier of the wine and spirits industry in the US, runs a number of initiatives aimed at fostering responsible consumption and tackling underage drinking. As has been seen elsewhere, teaming up with partners from other sectors has been fruitful.
WSWA has collaborated with Discovery Education and the National Football League Players Association in a programme called "It's 21. Just Pass", aimed at communicating the risks and consequences of underage drinking to students in high school.
Curriculum kits, which include posters featuring various NFL players, lesson plans and information that will direct teens to a co-branded WSWA/Discovery Education/NFLPA website, have been sent to high schools throughout the country. The website includes videos of players encouraging students to “just pass” on alcohol until they are of legal drinking age.
“By partnering with NFLPA and Discovery Education, we’ve leveraged high-profile sports personalities and a very credible educational resource to help us develop an innovative campaign that can impact the audience we need to target,” WSWA states.
WSWA has also partnered with the National Center for DWI Courts (NCDC), Beam Global Spirits and Wine and the American Beverage Licensees (ABL) in a national campaign designed to establish best practices for DWI Courts.
The DWI (driving while intoxicated) Courts are designed to hold high-risk drivers accountable for their actions in a judicially supervised rehabilitation programme. In these courts, the judge, prosecutor, defence lawyer, law enforcement officer, probation officer and treatment provider work together to develop the most effective treatment for the offender.
WSWA also supports the 'We Don't Serve Teens' initiative. In 2008, WSWA also established a partnership with Health Communications to provide WSWA members with resources and tools that promote responsible consumption through a programme called Training for Intervention Procedures (TIPS).
The TIPS programme includes 'Train-the-Trainer' workshops, where employees of WSWA member companies can become certified TIPS trainers. These staff can then train retail staff on techniques for serving alcohol safely, legally and responsibly. More than 3m people have been certified through the TIPS programme.
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