GLOBAL: Drinks CEOs unveil new commitments on alcohol harm

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The 'Global Actions: Initiatives to Reduce Harmful Drinking' conference closed in Washington DC yesterday (9 October) with the unveiling of a new set of commitments by major drinks companies around tackling alcohol misuse.


Pernod Ricard vice chairman & CEO Pierre Pringuet outlined the ten specific commitments across five areas:

  • underage drinking
  • strengthening marketing codes of practice
  • consumer information and responsible product innovation
  • drink driving, and
  • engaging with retailers

Included in the undertakings is a commitment to work with retailers to develop "guiding principles of responsible beverage alcohol retailing", which will focus on identifying best practice guidelines around discouraging irresponsible promotions, while seeking "appropriate retailer undertakings" on the responsible selling of alcohol.

Speaking to just-drinks in Washington yesterday, Pringuet said the new commitments represent "a very concrete set of actions. We're not talking about big principles," he said, "we're really targeting precise issues about misuse of alcohol."

In addition to the commitments around drink driving and underage drinking, Pringuet highlighted the inclusion of a commitment to develop a set of global guiding principles for alcohol marketing via digital media during 2013. Pringuet said digital media is "different by essence" from other channels, and having specific guidelines for digital media was "particularly important" with regard to the protection of younger people.

He also highlighted the engagement with retail partners as a particularly significant element in the new commitments. Asked if he thought this commitment would lead to a greater retailer contingent at conferences such as this week's in Washington - where there was very little retailer participation - Pringuet said: "Hopefully, yes".

The new commitments are clearly significant in the context of the industry's role in the execution of the World Health Organization's (WHO) 'Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol'.

Pringuet said a letter detailing the new commitments had been "officially" sent to the WHO Secretariat on the day of the announcement, although just-drinks has learned that WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan and some of her staff had been given advance sight of the commitments last week. Since the official communication was sent today, it was little surprise when Pringuet confirmed that no response had yet been received.

Although the involvement of economic operators is enshrined in the WHO strategy, industry advocates have complained that the WHO appears to exhibit a sceptical view towards industry engagement in tackling alcohol misuse.

Pringuet would not be drawn on whether he regretted that nobody from the WHO was attending the conference to witness in person this step up in the industry's actions. He said that there was a "long process of interaction" with the WHO and added: "At the end of the day we are very keen to continue developing the co-operation with WHO and demonstrating to them that we're very serious."

As to whether the new commitments might foster a better rapport between the industry and the WHO, Pringuet made explicit reference to the UN member states. He said: "It's equally important to have the support of as many member states as possible, because that's how the decision process is made, and we have intensive cooperation with many, many states."

The companies and CEOs making the commitments include:

For a full breakdown of the commitments, click here.

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