A commitment to open dialogue
Our stakeholders include investors, NGOs, regulators, suppliers, the scientific and public health communities, consumers, employees, local communities, customers (retailers and distributors) and sustainability opinion leaders. In short, anyone who is impacted by, or can impact upon, our business operations is a stakeholder of British American Tobacco.
There are various benefits to engaging with our stakeholders. It helps us to understand their concerns and therefore to respond to them appropriately. It gives us valuable feedback on our policies, procedures and ways of working, so that we can continually improve them. It provides us with opportunities to put our views across, helping our stakeholders understand our positions. It supports our partners, such as through our engagement with retailers to help them meet legal requirements on how they display tobacco products and not selling to the underage. And it is a way of sharing expertise, for example between our Group Research & Development (GR&D) team and the wider scientific community.
The ways in which we engage with our stakeholders include formal stakeholder dialogue sessions, stakeholder panels, long-term partnerships and employee and customer surveys, along with day-to-day dealings such as the agronomy support we provide to our contracted farmers.
We have been criticised for not engaging with those stakeholders who are most critical of the tobacco industry. This is an area we have tried to address by inviting such stakeholders to our formal dialogue sessions, but their willingness to participate remains a challenge. We remain open to meeting our critics and engaging in constructive discussion.
In 2001, we launched our approach to formal stakeholder dialogue sessions and our companies have been following it ever since. It is based on the AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard (AA1000SES).
We allow for flexibility in the planning and execution of dialogue sessions by our companies to make sure they meet local needs. For example, they select their own topics of dialogue and invite the stakeholder groups they consider the most relevant.
However, some criteria are mandatory. For example:
In recent years, the focus of our dialogue sessions has altered: from listening to stakeholders’ concerns to collaborating with our stakeholders on the development of our sustainability plans. This has meant involving a wider range of our own senior managers in the dialogue process to enhance commitment and understanding within the business and to ensure the outcomes of the dialogue are relevant to the business. We have also engaged with a wider range of stakeholders, including those who are most critical of us and those who will be directly impacted by the outcomes of the dialogue. This helps to ensure that we are considering every relevant issue.
We have a number of long-term partnership agreements that support our sustainability programme.
Our Biodiversity Partnership with three NGOs – Fauna & Flora International, the Tropical Biology Association and Earthwatch – entered its third and final five-year term in 2011 and concluded in 2015. The Partnership has helped us to develop specific biodiversity tools, such as biodiversity risk and opportunity assessments for our tobacco growing operations and increased awareness of biodiversity within the Group and our supply chain. You can read more at the Biodiversity Partnership website.
Since 2008, we have had an External Scientific Panel, a multidisciplinary team of leading experts who provide important input to help inform the development of our scientific research programme.
We have a 20-year, €134 million cooperation agreement with the European Commission and its member states to tackle the illegal tobacco trade. Our companies have also signed memoranda of understanding and industry agreements addressing the illegal tobacco trade in over 50 countries over recent years.
We were founding members of the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing (ECLT) Foundation and continue to play an active role along with others in the industry, trades unions and the ILO. You can find out more at the Foundation’s website www.eclt.org .
We also run other projects around the world in partnership with local stakeholders, including governments, academic institutions, NGOs, industry associations and development agencies. These range from offering training and development opportunities to farmers and young people living in rural areas, to providing much needed local infrastructure and resources for communities, such as health services, clean water and electricity.
Every two years, we commission an independent, international employee opinion survey called ‘Your Voice’. It shows us the level of our employees’ engagement and enables us to benchmark our organisation against other multinational businesses. Most importantly, it highlights areas of the business where we can take action to address employees’ concerns. You can see the results of our latest survey in our sustainability performance centre .
We measure our retail customers’ satisfaction through our Customer Voice programme. This has been designed and developed to provide in-depth qualitative understanding of BAT’s customers. You can read about the survey in Working with retailers.