The curious case of tobacco companies and eco prizes
| Agency: DNA | Monday, July 16, 2012
: http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/column_the-curious-case-of-tobacco-companies-and-eco-prizes_1715496Late last month, on the sidelines of the Rio+20 conference,
India’s largest cigarette maker, ITC
(formerly Indian Tobacco Company) received the World Business Council for Sustainable
Development’s highest prize for improving the environment and removing poverty. In tow werethe UNDP’s administrator and former New Z
ealand prime minister, Helen Clark, and the topexecutive of the UN Global Compact. The award is possibly the biggest travesty of justice even
by the UN and the World Bank’s weak ethical standards. Here’s why.
ITC is primarily a cigarette maker and tobacco trader, even though it would like to claim that it isa diversified company selling soap, biscuits and hospitality. It started exactly 100 years ago inBihar and migrated to Andhra Pradesh to grow tobacco and make cigarettes.Growing tobacco and making cigarettes is toxic to the environment. It needs to clear forests andfields to grow tobacco, requires chemicals to ensure that the tobacco plant is free of pathogens,and trees to be hacked to cure the tobacco (one kilogram of tobacco needs roughly eight kilos of dry fuel wood), add more than 4000 undisclosed chemicals to make the cigarette addictive, andtop this with glossy packaging of paper, cardboard and plastic, which we see littered on the
streets and choking waterways. In addition, ITC’s factories ha
ve over-extracted water andpolluted rivers. In April 2011, for example, desperate farmers of Bhadrachalam and Irivendi
villages had to go to court when the district collector could not stop ITC’s factory from over
-extracting water from a drying Godavari. In a nutshell, this is the lifecycle of a cigarette.Imagine cutting down dry forests of central India to fuel an addiction! Organisations that conduct
ITC’s environmental diligence do not use the full historical environmental cost of their business.
They use an annual energy and input-output analysis and this makes them look good. Even this,
however, is not the full impact of ITC’s business.Smoking kills more than one million adults prematurely in India. ITC’s cigarettes have been a
major contributor, both directly for its smokers and those exposed to its smoke, and also to theyouth, many of whom who are poor and aspire to smoke its cigarettes. Smoking also is a leadingcause of poverty. One study using government data suggests that direct expenditure on tobaccoby households can potentially impoverish nearly 15 million Indians annually.Another study has found that treating just four major tobacco-related diseases account for 4.7%
of India’s national healthcare expenditure. This will grow in the future
as more youth will take tosmoking cigarettes.