SAB quits alcohol-harm-reduction nonprofit Aware.org

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South African Breweries is exploring new alcohol harm reduction strategies.
South African Breweries is exploring new alcohol harm reduction strategies.
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The country’s biggest beer producer South African Breweries (SAB) has resigned from Aware.org, the nonprofit organisation (NPO) aimed at reducing harm due to alcohol.

Membership of such an organisation is a trading licence prerequisite in the liquor industry for manufacturers, redistributors and traders. Aware.org describes itself as an organisation that aims to reduce alcohol-related harm through research, collaboration with partners, stakeholder management and creating awareness. The NPO's programmes and projects are funded by financial contributions from its members, who include alcohol producers such as Distell, Diageo, DGB and KWV.

Industry estimates place member contributions at tens of millions of rands a year.

On Friday, SAB confirmed that it was serving its six months' notice period as a member of Aware.org.

"We have resigned from Aware.org [and it] is subject to a six-month notice period. So we are still members of Aware.org and we will remain members until that notice period finishes," said Richard Rivett-Carnac, SAB’s vice-president for finance and legal.

He added that the company’s decision was the result of wanting to work on alcohol reduction better, faster and with greater impact. More details of its next steps would be announced in due course, he said. 

"We’ve made a decision to step aside from Aware.org because we believe we can accelerate things. It’s been an ask ... from our stakeholders [who] say, 'do more'," said Zoleka Lisa, vice-president of corporate affairs at SAB South Africa.

Lisa explained that the group has decided to insource the execution of its responsible consumption programmes instead of "relying on a single entity", to ensure the acceleration of its alcohol-harm-reduction endeavours. 

In a written response to Fin24, SAB also said it was heeding government's call to the company and its social partners to tackle the harmful consumption of alcohol. 

"We believe that due to our reach, scale and global experience, we are positioned to accelerate the changes required in the delivery of responsible consumption interventions and we have strengthened our internal capacity to do so," said SAB.

Lucky Ntimane, Convenor of the National Liquor Traders (NLT), said Aware.org plays a significant role in addressing issues about alcohol abuse and its associated harm. He said the SAB’s decision to leave Aware.org was "unfortunate", but it needed to be understood in the context of SAB’s plans on tackling alcohol harm outside Aware.org.

"And we will hold them to account based on those plans," he said. 

Ntimane added that he was hopeful that given the leadership role that SAB plays in the industry, the company will continue to play its part in society in driving programmes that address the irresponsible consumption of alcohol. He also said the group will engage with SAB to understand its plans, following the Aware.org exit.

Director of the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in SA (Saapa), Maurice Smithers, said it was interesting that in addition to leaving Aware.org, SAB was not part of the South Africa Liquor Brand Owners' Association (Salba). This makes it the only big South African alcohol producer that is not part of an association.

However, Smithers said Saapa did not agree with Aware.org’s narrative that South Africa’s problems with alcohol abuse can be solved by placing the responsibility of safe consumption, solely on individuals and not looking at broader socioeconomic reasons for abuse.

In a statement, Aware.org’s CEO Ingrid Louw confirmed that the organisation had received SAB’s notice to withdraw. 

Louw said, “It is unfortunate that the decision has been taken at this crucial stage in the national effort to increase awareness around the importance of alcohol harm reduction, but it does not impact the commitment from the industry to continue to support government in its alcohol harm reduction initiatives.”

She added that other alcohol producers such as Heineken, Distell, Diageo, Pernod-Ricard, Vinpro and Salba, were still part of Aware.org and would continue to work with SAB to address alcohol harm caused by abuse and misuse.

This story has been updated with comment from the National Liquor Traders, the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in SA and Aware.org.

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