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Responding to human rights allegations

A commitment to openness and transparency

We have always done our utmost to uphold high standards, openly engage with our stakeholders and work to strengthen our approach to align to their expectations.

Multinational businesses have long been subject to stakeholder scrutiny and allegations – especially one like ours in a controversial sector and with global operations and supply chains in challenging and diverse environments.

So if we do receive any reports of unethical behaviour, we conduct detailed investigations, take appropriate action to address any issues identified, and report transparently on the progress and outcomes.

In 2016, there were three incidents where it has been alleged we failed to protect the human rights of people in our supply chain, two of which were brought to our attention through reports by non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

We take such allegations extremely seriously and openly engaged with the NGOs prior to the reports being published, providing detailed responses to the issues raised and, where possible, also providing supporting evidence, including independent studies, where we felt allegations were unfounded.


In June 2016 the NGO Swedwatch published a report entitled ‘Smokescreens in the supply chain: the impacts of the tobacco industry on human rights and the environment in Bangladesh ’.

We conducted our own internal review in Bangladesh and remain of the view that the report as a whole is not representative of the reality on the ground. However, we recognise the serious nature of the allegations and so have also commissioned an independent assessment of the human rights-related impacts of tobacco growing in the country. We will report on the key findings and, if any issues are identified, we will of course address them as soon as is practically possible.


In May 2016, the NGO Human Rights Watch published a report entitled, ‘The Harvest is in My Blood: Hazardous Child Labor in Tobacco Farming in Indonesia ’.

The report into tobacco growing in Indonesia highlighted a number of issues that result from the way in which certain types of tobacco are traditionally grown and sold in the country. We are pleased that it acknowledges the collective responsibilities of the Government, the tobacco industry and NGOs, and we support many of the recommendations on how these groups can tackle this issue. The report findings have been fed into an existing review of our practices in Indonesia and have contributed to our ongoing plans.

These plans include our work with an ECLT -led, multi-stakeholder project to address child labour in Indonesian tobacco growing, as well as further developing our own internal processes to ensure that all aspects of the supply chain are meeting our expected standards. You can read more about this in a case study on page 18 of our Sustainability Report 2016.

United States

Also, in 2016, the International Union of Food (IUF) workers made a complaint to the UK National Contact Point (NCP) of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), alleging human rights abuses of migrant farmworkers in our US supply chain.

An initial assessment by the UK NCP  found that the complaint that we had directly caused or contributed to abuses could not be substantiated and, as a result, they will not examine this further. However, the complaint that we may not have taken adequate steps to leverage a business relationship in order to prevent abuses will be examined further by the NCP. We vigorously disagree with this secondary complaint and are actively and constructively engaging with the NCP to contest it. We will report on the findings once the NCP’s investigation has concluded.