We're committed to ethical conduct: BAT

HARARE - British American Tobacco (BAT) says it is committed to “high ethical and business standards” in all its operational facets in the country.

This comes as the multinational cigarette maker, along many others, has come under the spotlight for various issues regarding statutory instrument (SI) 264 of 2002 and related compliance measures.

“We believe we have a strong business in Zimbabwe because we uphold high standards of business conduct and this is recognised by all of our stakeholders,” the company said in a recent statement, adding it was “incredibly proud of its commitment to our people, the community at large and empowerment was entrenched in the way it conducted business”.

“We value all our trade partners in the formal and informal sector, who have contributed... to the growth of Zimbabwe’s economy and the successful performance of our business,” BAT said.

As such, the company has been recognised for a number of reasons, including business leadership, corporate governance and tax compliance by both independent, and regulatory authorities.

In January, the Lovemore Manatsa-led group was forced to take out public notices to state that “it had no plans to leave or divest from Zimbabwe” after persistent rumours that it was scaling down its operations in the country.

“The BAT Zimbabwe Employee Share Ownership Trust and Tobacco Empowerment Trust evidence our investment in the sustainable development of our industry and country,” it said in the statement.

Crucially, the Anglo-South African behemoth “aspired to be a constructive partner and corporate citizen in the national dialogue (and) on how to attract, and retain investment in our manufacturing sector and country.”

On its SI 264 of 2002 compliance measures, BAT said it will “continue to offer its legendary brands, including Dunhill, Berkeley, Everest, Kingsgate, Madison and Newbury, which are conveniently packaged in 10s, 20s and 30s in line with the preference of consumers”.

“The packaging and labelling of our products is fully compliant with the requirements of Public Health (Tobacco Control) Regulations SI 264 of 2002,” the company said.

“... as we have done for over 100 years, we remain firmly focussed on value-addition to Zimbabwe’s most valuable agricultural commodity — tobacco,” it added.

And as the industry tries to deal or absorb the effects of the government-driven programme, which had seen police authorities ratcheting up seizures of a number of cigarette brands on the grounds that they were not compliant with the law, competitors including Savanna Tobacco have improved their game.

“Our flow-wraps … deliver a well-packaged, hygienic and legal product to all consumers, regardless of economic background. In addition, we have ensured that all our trade … partners are stocked with compliant stock for all their consumer profiles, so that they desist from illegal sales of loose or noncompliant cigarettes,” a company spokesperson said last week.

On the extent of the blitz and operation’s impact on their bottom-line, Savanna said it was more “concerned with the impact on our trade and vendor partners who have had their livelihoods disrupted”.

“We have made every effort to help our partners recover, be in it compliance with the law and also continue to sustain themselves and their families. We will (also) continue to stand by (them and)… our consumers so we can all achieve our aims of economic empowerment, higher quality products and compliance with the laws of the country,” he added.

Last week, Adam Molai’s company secured vending licences for its hawkers from the Harare City Council and as part of a nationwide effort to empower its key stakeholders, and constituencies.

The development, coming after a four-month tussle with municipal authorities, also means government regulators were quite happy with the company’s steps or progress to comply with SI 264’s requirements.

Tongesai Zvaravanhu, Savanna’s chief operations officer, said last week that the company was committed to ensuring that all its operational facets were within the law.

“Savanna … remains one of the few … to provide legally compliant products to the stick market, which accounts for 60 percent-plus of cigarettes sold in Zimbabwe,” he said on the side-lines of a handover ceremony for the licences to its vendors in Harare.

Zvaravanhu said the measures were also aimed at “legalising their service, to keep helping key stakeholders to continue earning a decent living” after the recent crackdowns and as the licenses were valid for one year.

Savanna also says it will be giving its vendors some apparel to “ensure that they are visible in the market, synonymous with hygienic and well-packaged products”.

Under a government-driven blitz also fashioned to prevent the proliferation of communicable diseases through such products as cigarettes, many companies and operators had been affected by the operation. These include John Bredenkamp’s Breco.

While the operation was part of a clampdown, which started late last year, authorities were particularly interested in labelling and health warning issues — a key component and requirement of these long-standing regulations.

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