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Companies may use corporate social responsibility programs not just to enhance their public image, but to also gain access to politicians, influence agendas, and shape public health policy to best suit their own interests. In a study article led by Gary Fooks from the University of Bath's Tobacco Control Research Group in the UK and published in this week's PLoS Medicine, these programs are revealed as "an innovative form of corporate political activity".

The continual efforts of British American Tobacco (BAT, the world's second largest publicly traded tobacco company, which has won numerous awards for its social and environmental programs) to re-establish access with the UK Department of Health, following the Government's decision to restrict contact with major tobacco companies, were documented by the researchers.

Searching BAT records that were made publicly available as a result of litigation in the U.S. (for the period, 1998-2000) were involved in a detailed case investigation. The researchers demonstrate how the business used its corporate social responsibility programmed in its dialogue with policymakers to influence the priorities of public and elected officials in the UK, encourage them to take notice of proposals that best suited the company (for example, to make regulation voluntary), and to go over the Government's worries about whether the industry could be trusted to work in partnership.

In order to reveal how BAT was able to connect its preferred policies to political and societal values, such as harm reduction, child health, and cooperation between business and government, the authors documented examples of correspondence from Martin Broughton (BAT's chair between 1998 and 2004) and notes from meeting with politicians, including former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

They argue that their discoveries underline the need for broad implementation of Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control...
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