Monitoring Bulletin - March 202111.03.21
ACT Health Promotion
You, reader, must have had the feeling of experiencing the expression Myth of Sisyphus, the one about the effort to roll a huge rock up the mountain and when you get to the top, that rock falls down and you have to start pushing it all the way up again.
In our work monitoring the risk factors for non-communicable chronic diseases, we see this myth on an ongoing basis. Practices in one industry are recycled and then used by others, wearing a different outfit according to the season. The ultimate goal is to project the corporate image, conceal its damages and pose as companies capable of conquering a space in the hearts of the population. We have learned a lot from the tobacco industry's tactics of influencing public policies and we see corporations in the food and alcoholic beverage industries, for example, following the same path and repeating these practices. If we look around us, we see plastic and oil manufacturers drinking from the same fountain, despite all the progress that has already been achieved with some measures to regulate tobacco products.
In this edition, we bring up to discussion the reality show Big Brother Brasil, which has become the most talked about subject in the country, although we are experiencing an unparalleled political crisis and a peak in the Covid-19 pandemic, with increasing numbers of cases and deaths following a tragic curve, while vaccination is progressing at a very slow pace. The TV Globo show has managed to bring together the main companies that produce unhealthy products, including alcoholic beverages, as sponsors. See Record ratings: the BBB case, an analysis by Victoria Rabetim and Bruna Kulik Hassan.
We have long seen cigarette companies being rewarded for good corporate citizenship. They, of all companies, cause damage to health and the environment throughout their entire production chain, from tobacco production to butt disposal and packaging. Although the burden of smoking is too high for society as a whole, these awards continue to be granted to leading manufacturers and encourage other sectors to do the same. It is about this repetitive film that The award that does not pay, signed by Mariana Pinho and Adriana Carvalho focuses on.
Marília Albiero and Paula Johns, with Big companies, big lies – Plastic, consumption and sustainability, roll the rock down the mountain in the field of sustainability and plastic consumption, intrinsically linked issues relating to climate, public health and epidemics, which, as evidence shows, are at the heart of production and consumption. They point to the omission of the productive sector and eternal individual accountability, highlighting a series of actions taken by companies to create the impression of bringing sustainability to the business, but which are nothing more than marketing ploys to sell more products and place the brand among those most beloved by consumers.
And if you think you've seen this movie before, Camila Maranha and Laura Cury bring to the surface some programs by the oil industry to deny their damage to the environment, generate controversy and confuse the population with regard to climate change, using scientists and paying for dubious research. Just like the tobacco industry has always done. Be sure to read Déjà Vu - the oil industry in focus
Director of Communications
Record ratings: the BBB case
Bruna Kulik Hassan
The 21st edition of Big Brother Brasil started at the end of January and since its first week the show has been leading prime time ratings on open-broadcast television and conversations in digital environments, mainly on Twitter and Club House, a new social media app. The show became the most talked about subject in the country, overcoming topics like COVID-19, politics and K-pop on Twitter. Before it even started, it already ranked 7th on Twitter's Trending Topics and generated over 35 million tweets on its opening week. In the same period, the hashtag #BBB21 was the most quoted worldwide.
Number of tweets during BBB opening week in the last three years
In 2021, producers decided to make a very different and flexible commercial proposal, stirring up excitement in the advertising sector and attracting more sponsors to expose their brands. The growth in the number of sponsors was mainly due to the entry of last year's edition in the Guinness World Records, for reaching more than 1.5 billion votes in a television show.
In this edition, they opened two different sponsorship levels: Big, valued at R$ 78 million; and Anjo (Angel), costing R$ 59 million, which includes Amstel, McDonald’s and Seara. Among the special levels is Coca-Cola, which sponsors a weekly segment called Cinema do Líder (Leader's Movie Theater). There is no more information on the negotiation of sponsorship levels between the broadcaster and the advertisers.
Weekly segment Cinema do Líder (Leader's Movie Theater), sponsored by Coca-Cola
Despite the lack of transparency about the amounts negotiated, the overwhelming impact of promoting a brand on BBB is palpable. Americanas, which operates in the e-commerce of several ultra-processed foods, enjoyed a 390% growth in the number of downloads of the applications during the 2020 edition, compared to the previous edition. It's no wonder that the company renewed its contract and joined the Big level this year.
As it is the most talked about subject of the moment on social media in Brazil, communication specialists point out the importance of entering the discussions about BBB, even for brands that are not sponsors. On Twitter, the marketing team prepared a set of guidelines for brands to take advantage of the opportunity by encouraging interaction with users.
Skol used the controversy involving participant Karol Conká, a singer and television host, who already had 1.5 million followers on Instagram before her entry into BBB. The meme suggested a change in the brand name, taking advantage of the negative repercussion of the participant, who was ousted after a 99.17% rejection from the audience. The post was subsequently deleted to avoid the consequences of its cancellation.
Print of Skol's tweet hitching a ride on the BBB topic and subsequently deleted
The controversy concerning the artist, accused of being xenophobic and of engaging in psychological torture in the show, even stimulated the audience to carry out a boycott of BBB sponsoring brands, but in the opinion of marketing experts there is no consensus on the image of the companies that sponsor the show in relation to what has been happening inside the house.
Tweet “canceling” BBB sponsors with over a thousand likes
The unpleasant situation of the show caused another singer, Anitta, to create her own reality show, “Ilhados com Beats” (Stranded with Beats), in which she invited nine influencer friends who performed tasks and challenges stranded on an island.
The reality show Ilhados was sponsored by Skol Beats, a brand of alcoholic drink of which Anitta is head of creativity and innovation. The show debuted in February and was broadcast on the brand's Instagram profile. Beats also took 5 followers of the brand to “enjoy the post-production” with the participants on the island.
Anitta and the participants consuming the alcoholic drink sponsoring the reality show
Going back to BBB, we can see that the sponsors' communication strategy is well aligned with the show. McDonald's sponsored an endurance leader test that lasted throughout the night and stimulated delivery sales of its products. The following day, the company launched the hashtag #MéquiNoBBB21, which was sponsored within the platform in order to be on Twitter's Trending Topics and got tons of comments about how much viewers desired to order their products.
McDonald’s sponsored hashtag on Trending Topics
Coca-Cola used the same strategy with the sponsorship of the "Cinema do Líder" (Leader's Movie Theater) segment for some participants. The following day, it had the sponsored hashtag #AbertosProMelhor in Twitter's Trending Topics, in addition to publishing other posts in line with the house schedule.
Twitter does not reveal the amount of the investment to place a hashtag among the Trending Topics for 24 hours, achieving massive reach. According to the Wall Street Journal, that amount was US$ 100,000 in 2010. When contacting the platform on this topic, they state that the amount may vary according to the period.
Another action by Coca-Cola generated a lot of controversy on social media: the leader test sponsored by the brand, which was won by participant Karol Conká. Due to the lack of popularity of Conká, the audience began to tweet jokingly saying that they would start drinking the competitor brand after the task.
Felipe Neto's tweet about what happened - he has 13 million followers on the web
Pepsi reached the Trending Topics, but was off momentarily, which opened a discussion about transparency in relation to the platform's classification on the criteria used for topics to reach the Trending Topics. One of the biggest digital influencers in Brazil, Felipe Neto, questioned the sudden disappearance of the brand.
Tweet questioning the platform about the classification of the Trending Topics of the moment
For a show watched by young people and children, there is an excessive amount of ads for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, without any type of regulation, and little transparency as to the criteria for bringing a topic or hashtag to the top of the discussions.
It is also worth remembering that in Brazil any advertising aimed at children is considered abusive, according to the Consumer Protection Code, the Legal Framework for Early Childhood and Resolution No. 163 of the National Council for the Rights of Children and Adolescents (Conanda).
The award that does not pay
In the corporate context, it has become common for companies to receive awards and recognition for their business practices. The annual institutional reports and social networks of tobacco, sweetened beverages and alcohol companies demonstrate that they invest in human resources programs, such as social inclusion, human rights, gender issues, and in social projects to fight racism, domestic and female violence, and child labor. Not to mention environmental protection projects. In pandemic times, we have shown in past issues how these companies supported the installation of field health units, produced and distributed inputs and, in the case of tobacco companies, were involved in research on the development of vaccines against coronavirus.
It is valid and important that companies adopt internal inclusion policies and their practices are in accordance with human rights and environmental protection standards. However, when related projects and actions gain external visibility, it is necessary not to detach their practices from the damage that these companies cause to health and the environment, society and the State.
In the case of tobacco companies, it is an indisputable fact that smoking is highly addictive and is associated with more than 70 diseases, including cardiovascular and lung diseases, cancer and diabetes. Smoking generates a cost of R$ 56 billion per year to the Brazilian health system, related to direct costs, for the treatment of tobacco-related diseases, and indirect costs resulting from the loss of productivity due to premature death and disability. Even though the government raises revenue from taxes from the sale of cigarettes, the amount represents only 23% of the costs, which stands at R$ 13 billion.
And when we look at the side of the tobacco producer and his family, we also see losses. In addition to economic dependence, the use of pesticides in tobacco plantations exposes farmers to the risks of poisoning, the development of psychiatric and neurological diseases and an increased risk of suicide, as shown by research carried out in production regions. There are records of child and slave-like labor in tobacco fields.
Cigarette-manufacturing companies, large billion-dollar multinational corporations, have a far from honorable track record. Internal documents of these companies, which have been made public, and an American court decision reveal that this is an industry based on the lack of ethics and the lack of commitment to the lives and health of smokers and non-smokers, that has lied, omitted, deceived and, conspiratorially, defrauded the United States and the world. In a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1999 against nine cigarette manufacturers (United States v. Philip Morris), there was the historic decision that recognizes that the tobacco industry has been behind the smoking epidemic for 50 years and acts jointly and in a coordinated manner to deceive public opinion, the government, the health community and consumers.
There are intense and permanent attempts by tobacco companies to obscure the damage they cause to society and to undermine or distort tobacco control activities. Thus, the World Health Organization Framework Convention, an international treaty ratified by 181 countries and the European Union, established a mechanism to protect public policies against the commercial and other interests of tobacco companies through Article 5.3, in accordance with national legislation and, to that end, governments should not support activities of the tobacco industry described as socially responsible.
In addition to Article 5.3, the United Nations Global Compact, the largest corporate sustainability initiative in the world, which encourages companies to align their strategies and operations with universal principles of human rights, labor, environmental care and anti-corruption, has prohibited the participation of the tobacco industry, since 2017.
Despite these international instruments, in 2020 the City Hall of São Paulo granted the Human Rights and Diversity seal to Philip Morris Brasil, for its set of programs included under the denomination Empow#her, whose goal is described as “to expand and recognize female leadership within the organization, and Stripes Brasil, focused on diversity and aimed at guaranteeing the rights of LGBTI+ professionals.” The Interstate Tobacco Industry Union, Sinditabaco, which the company integrates through its Institute, received a tribute from the Brazilian Bar Association in the Justice and Citizenship category of the Innovare Award.
Due to its history and the damage caused by the consumption of its products, the tobacco industry was almost forced to invest in social responsibility actions, aiming to improve its image before society. The public recognition of its corporate practices distances the tobacco industry from the social, environmental, economic and health losses that it causes to society. Inevitably, the awards contribute towards keeping them active in the market and with a good corporate image and, thus, perpetuate their products in the daily lives of current and potential consumers. This way, they also captivate the decision makers. They do this to sell and profit more at a high cost to Brazilian society.
We consider here that, in the same line of reasoning regarding the lack of coherence in rewarding tobacco companies for some of their practices, disregarding the negative externalities of their business, this should also apply to all other companies producing unhealthy commodities, as is the case, for example, of the manufacturers of alcoholic beverages and ultra-processed foods and beverages, as well as the oil industry, as we discussed in this issue.
Thus, the best posture is to follow the Framework Convention and the decision of the United Nations Global Compact in the sense of not giving support or visibility to the social responsibility actions carried out by tobacco companies.
Unfortunately, this does not seem to have been the case at the UN SDG Action Awards, an award promoted by the UN for entities that carried out initiatives to fight Covid-19, which recognized Ambev for the solidarity programs promoted during the pandemic.
The conclusion is that these companies take advantage of each and every gap that opens up and we, as a society, still have a long way to go.
Big companies, big lies - Plastic, consumption and sustainability
If the entire history of Earth were told in just one day, our presence here would probably represent only its last few milliseconds, as the video Timelapse of the Entire Universe shows. But, even though we haven't inhabited this planet for very long, the impact we have left here is already devastating.
When reading the executive summary of a report recently launched by the organization Changing Markets Foundation, entitled Talking Trash, the feeling is of reading yet another of its chapters, which is repeated over and over again and ratifies, for the millionth time, that we are experiencing a dystopia. The Anthropocene era strides to make human life on the planet unfeasible. Coined by scientists Paul Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer, the term Anthropocene defines a new geological age where human activities, from agriculture to the development of plastic, concrete and nuclear energy, moving through global warming, have been affecting the Earth in such a way that it seems to have created a new geological period of time.
Talking Trash investigates tactics employed by the plastic industry in 15 countries on the five continents and exposes what is behind an unprecedented pollution crisis in history. There are 400 million tons of plastic produced annually and that number is growing. Estimates indicate that production will double by 2030. By 2050 the forecast is that we will have more plastics than fish in the oceans.
Rivers, soil, oceans, and even our bodies, are full of microplastics, pesticides and an immeasurable amount of man-made chemical cocktails that cause countless ecological imbalances, which in turn cause a great number of diseases and premature deaths.
The plastic crisis is also the crisis of biodiversity, climate, public health and epidemics caused by the prevailing hegemonic mode of production and consumption. We can say that it is also a profound crisis of governance and accountability, the word that does not exist in Portuguese, but has a meaning that goes beyond control, inspection, taking responsibility or being held accountable.
From the fossil fuel industry, involved in the origin of plastic production, to that of package producers, at the end of this chain, individually or collectively, everyone is involved in the crisis and appears to be leading a movement to point out solutions, in the face of problems that become increasingly evident.
To society and governments, these industries report robust commitments and voluntary agreements and present major innovations in the packaging area, breaking technological barriers never thought of before.
However, the report shows that behind the scenes, these companies do everything to keep their profits intact and continue to flood the world with cheap disposable products. The question that comes up is how we can expect that those who make a living of the problem they created will be willing to solve the problem. The examples gathered reveal that even when companies appear to do what is right, in practice they do not.
To be able to contain the plastic crisis, the solutions should follow the order of not generating, reducing, returning to glass and lastly, recycling. And ultimately, proper disposal of waste, where only the waste should be sent to landfills.
The industries do not implement reverse logistics, a set of procedures and means to collect and forward post-sale or post-consumer waste to the business sector, for reuse or correct destination. For this to happen, the productive sector should bear the cost of logistics and pay for the recyclable fraction collection system, which is around 30%, if this cost were internalized by the companies. Perhaps that would change the options of the industries regarding the choice of packaging used.
What we see in practice is a profound omission by the productive sector, the individual being held accountable and a series of social actions whose main function ends up being that of green washing, which mean to give the problem a green connotation to divert attention from what really matters.
We should not be surprised by this situation, since approximately 30% of plastic consumption is for the food, beverage and agriculture sector, with a significant portion being used as packaging for ultra-processed products. Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Nestlé, and Unilever lead the world ranking of worst plastic polluters on the planet, but we can also see the presence one of the big players in the tobacco sector, Philip Morris.
Source: Atlas do Plástico
Anyone who follows the public health agenda for the control of tobacco and alcohol and the promotion of healthy eating has certainly recognized the many similarities among the tactics used by the respective industries. By bringing in the plastic factor, we broaden the scope of the impact on the health of humans and of the planet and enter the arena of pollutant productive chains that feed back on each other. We also realize that it is the same actors who orchestrate a coordinated action on a global scale with the same modus operandi, creating a smokescreen and exempting themselves from responsibility, as well as acting as if these very companies had not themselves created the problem. Blame tends to be passed on to the individual. Also, in this case, the resulting cost of waste is nowhere near being included in the price of the end product, nor is the cost of health.
We believe that reducing the use of plastic should not only be the responsibility of the consumer, but also part of a systemic change, integrating the environmental agenda with that of health. This way, by increasing the voices of civil society, we will be able to be stronger and more effective in pressing for the advancement of an integrated legislation and full corporate accountability.
Source: Uruguayan Association of Plastic Industries.
Dejà Vu - The oil industry in focus
Déjà Vu is a term which in French means something already seen. The expression is used to describe the psychological reaction of the transmission of ideas that you have been somewhere before or that you have seen those people or that element. This is often how we feel when faced with corporate actions by certain companies in other sectors and which have negative impacts not only on people's health, but also on the environment, after we have investigated and analyzed the operation of the tobacco industry and its outcomes.
With respect to corporate actions, a recent BBC news report showed how the oil industry questioned global warming using the same tactics as cigarette manufacturers. Forty years ago, in 1981, Marty Hoffert, a leading authority on advanced energy, created a model which showed that the Earth would warm up significantly due to the effects of human action, which would produce unprecedented climate change. Hoffert developed the model while working for Exxon, one of the largest oil companies in the world and who spent millions of dollars on research in order to lead the market. He shared the findings with his managers, showing the devastating effects of continuing to burn fossil fuels to move cars, trucks and planes, but their reaction was not what Hoffert expected.
To the specialist, what Exxon did “was immoral. They spread doubts about the dangers of climate change, while his internal research confirmed the seriousness of this threat." The "Exxon Position", an internal company document presented confidentially to the board in 1989, and which would later be made public and donated to the University of Texas in Austin, revealed that the instructions were to emphasize uncertainty about climate change, since there was fear that the public could be opposed and promote changes in the way energy is used, impacting business negatively.
Internal document from the 1980s shows the so-called "Exxon Position", determining to "emphasize uncertainty" about climate change, published in a BBC news report.
At this point, the first similarity between the strategies employed by the energy industries and the tobacco industry already comes to light, the latter being a pioneer in employing various tactics to continue to generate profits through the sale of a harmful product. In the 1950s, the tobacco industry was already questioning the scientific connections between smoking and cancer. As recalled by the BBC article, a document by tobacco company Brown and Williamson summarized the approach: "Doubt is our product, as it is the best way to compete with the 'body of evidence' that exists in the mind of the general public." John Hill, considered a public relations guru who founded Hill and Knowlton, one of the largest public relations companies, suggested founding the "Tobacco Industry Research Committee" to promote "the existence of firm scientific views that show that there is no evidence that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer".
The BBC news report also addresses the "Whitecoat" project, which confronted scientists to create confusion in order to raise doubts about existing scientific evidence. Another example is the case of the internal memorandum by tobacco company RJ Reynolds, of May 1979, which states that "thanks to testimonies with favorable scientific evidence, no plaintiff has managed to get a single cent from any tobacco company in lawsuits alleging that smoking causes lung cancer or cardiovascular disease, even though 117 of these lawsuits have been filed since 1954." However, in 2006, a historic court decision, handed down by Judge Gladys Kessler, ruled that American tobacco companies were guilty of fraudulently interpreting the health risks associated with smoking.
Fuel companies have also recruited and trained independent scientists to provide dubious testimonies about human-induced climate change. Thus, while the public might view the speech of oil industry executives with suspicion, it could rely on the views of seemingly independent scientists, but who were taking money from the oil industry. A study by Bob Brulle, Professor Emeritus at Drexel University (USA), identified 91 institutions that denied or minimized the risks of global warming and it was found that, between 2003 and 2007, ExxonMobil paid some of them US$ 7.2 million.
Bob Brulle also identified a new challenge: more recent data indicates that Koch Industries and ExxonMobil, two of the biggest supporters of the climate science denial, have recently withdrawn from the public funding of countermovement organizations. Coinciding with the decline in traceable funding, the amount of funding given to countermovement organizations through third party transfer foundations such as Donors Trust and Donors Capital, whose funders cannot be traced, has increased dramatically.
In addition to researchers, so-called astroturf organizations, who are fake grassroots organizations, usually sponsored by large corporations, were also funded to support any arguments or claims in their favor, or to challenge and deny those against them. They constitute the corporate version of grassroots social movements, who proactively connect people locally with the aim of promoting pro-social and environmental issues. In a study led by Charles H. Cho, Assistant Professor of Accounting at the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University, large polluting companies encouraged and funded astroturf organizations to undermine the importance of human activities in climate change.
Some books have been exposing this subject in depth. According to Naomi Oreskes, History of Science professor at Harvard University and co-author of the book Merchants of Doubt , "instead of accepting scientific evidence, they [Exxon and other energy companies or fossil fuel-dependent industries, who joined forces in the Global Climate Coalition to engage in aggressive lobbying between politicians and the US media] made the decision to fight against facts. (...) They promoted advertising campaigns designed to undermine public support, choosing only certain data which favored their narrative and even rhetorical questions to create confusion and doubt," as in the case of the ad that asked the public: “If the Earth is getting warmer, why is [the State of] Kentucky getting colder?”, as shown in the figure below.
David Michaels, Professor of Public Health at George Washington University and author of The Triumph of Doubt, details how the pesticide, plastics and sugar industries reproduced the same tactics as the so-called 'tobacco strategy manual'.
Academics fear that the use of uncertainty to confuse the public has already eroded a significant part of the world's public trust in experts and facts, regarding various products from industries harmful to the health of people and the planet and even on very current issues, such as vaccination and coronavirus. According to the “Fool me twice” report, with tactics refined by the tobacco industry over the past 50 years, multinational food, beverage and alcohol companies are working to prevent, delay and undermine policies that save millions of lives.
Unfortunately, while many countries are being urged to take action to halt climate change and protect the environment, giant fossil fuel companies sue governments for billions of dollars based on the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), created in the mid-1990s to encourage energy companies to invest in developing economies, and has been used to sue countries that are trying to deactivate coal plants and oil platforms, hampering the transition to 100% clean energy. The Avaaz platform has an online petition on this topic.
Thus, many institutions are unable to manage the negative externalities that their products cause, prioritizing economic activities harmful to the health of people and the planet. According to The Economics of Biodiversity report, published in February 2021, a conservative estimate of the total global cost of subsidies that harm Nature is about US$ 4 trillion to US$ 6 trillion a year. Institutional arrangements are insufficient to protect global public assets, such as the ocean and forests and the climate.
Humanity needs to turn the game around, as the Agenda 2030 campaign preaches. As Professor Partha Dasgupta points out in the report mentioned above, continuing on the current track presents extreme risks and uncertainties. Sustainable growth and development requires changes in the behavior of all the actors involved, including those who own important means of communication, who must value transparency. The commitment must be to provide the well-being of people and the planet and actions taken must in fact be sustainable and increase not only material wealth, but collective well-being, including that of future generations.
As Dasgupta notes, a reform in the measurement of economic success is essential. The use of GDP is based on a flawed application of the economy, as it measures the flow of money, but not the stock of national assets. The introduction of natural capital in the national accounting systems is, therefore, fundamental for the achievement of sustainability.
Recent developments in the ExxonMobil case bring another hope for a change of scenery: in June 2020, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed a lawsuit against the American Petroleum Institute and Koch Industries, accused of deceiving the public about climate change. The lawsuit argues that "previously unknown internal documents confirm that the defendants were well aware of the devastating effects their products had on the climate". The prosecution claims that, despite having this knowledge, the companies "engaged in a public relations campaign that was not only false, but also highly efficient", which served to "deliberately [sabotage] science".
Review and editing: Anna Monteiro
Art direction: Ronieri Gomes
Collaborated in this issue: Adriana Carvalho, ACT legal director