CSR: Awards

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For decades, multinational tobacco companies have received awards for their corporate social responsibility (CSR). This broad category includes both human resources (HR) awards that recognise internal practices as well as external-facing practices, including sustainability, community development and supply chain management.

Tobacco companies increase publicity for the awards they receive for CSR practices by highlighting them in their sustainability and annual reports and by garnering press attention. This tactic forms one part of the tobacco industry’s larger CSR strategy and helps mitigate the risk to companies’ reputation due to historic and current social transgressions.1 CSR is a public relations exercise that serves as a stand-in to making actual changes in company practices to improve social outcomes.23 Numerous academic studies have questioned the industry’s stated aim for its CSR policies of improving social and environmental outcomes and instead suggest a cynical motivation that facilitates “business as usual” and obscures “the structural inequalities under which exploitation takes place”.4 CSR also promotes access to policymakers and increases the opportunity for tobacco companies to be seen as credible sources of information35 on a variety of socially-pertinent topics including health, diversity and sustainable development.

The practice also problematically legitimises tobacco companies both to the public and to policymakers. Awards ceremonies can serve as spaces for tobacco companies to gain access to senior government officials, especially from non-health departments such as Finance, Commerce, and Trade, which remain most vulnerable to tobacco industry interference.6

  • You can read more about the problem of legitimation implied by tobacco companies’ inclusion on sustainability leaderboards and indexes on our page on greenwashing.


The tobacco industry actively seeks out awards for its diverse employee makeup. By promoting their receipt of awards for diversity, for example, tobacco companies can obscure and distract from their historic and current practices of targeting minorities. Tobacco industry marketing7 has been, and still is, targeted towards racial minority and Indigenous communities,891011 LGBTQ+ people,1213 youth,1214 and women.1516

The way the tobacco industry uses these awards highlights how important they are to its reputation management. In 2020, the Financial Times ranked 10,000 European firms on the diversity and inclusivity of their workplaces. Philip Morris International (PMI) and British American Tobacco (BAT) both made the top 700 as “Diversity Leaders”.17 BAT advertised its receipt of this award in a press release.18 The Human Rights Campaign, an American LGBTQ civil rights organisation, has awarded Altria and Reynolds American (BAT) “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality” in 2020.19 Forbes also ranked Altria high for diversity, including it on a list of “Best Employers for Diversity 2019”. The company had also received awards of Best Employer in 2018 and 2017 from Forbes.20

In their environmental, social and governance (ESG) reports, tobacco companies routinely spotlight these awards as evidence of their commitment to diversity. All of the awards mentioned above can be found highlighted in the ESG reports of PMI,21 BAT22 and Altria.23

Equal Salary Certification

EQUAL-SALARY is a non-profit foundation based in Switzerland and founded in 2010. The organisation evaluates companies’ employee salary data to establish whether women and men receive equal pay for equal work.24 In 2019, EQUAL-SALARY certified Philip Morris International (PMI) at the “Global” level, including all of its affiliates across more than 90 countries.25 Of 73 total companies certified, 47 are PMI country operations. PMI also often has more than one registered office in each country. When counted by the number of individual offices assessed and analysing the organisation’s own data, PMI branches and subsidiaries account for 76% of all certifications ever awarded by EQUAL-SALARY.26

EQUAL-SALARY lists auditors PwC and SGS as its “Certification Partners”, and the Swiss Federal Office for Gender Equality and the University of Geneva as “Founding Partners” on its website.27 Though it is unclear from the EQUAL-SALARY website,27 data analysis and on-site visits are conducted by PwC.28 EQUAL-SALARY has participated in the UN Global Compact (UNGC) since 2016.29 Tobacco companies were excluded from UNGC beginning in September 2017.30

Employer awards

Tobacco companies also receive awards for their human resources (HR) practices and workplace culture, from sources including Financial Times and Forbes, as detailed above. These awards provide a veneer of respectability to the tobacco industry, while neglecting analysis that includes the full tobacco supply chain. As tobacco farmers are employed through contracts, rather than directly by firms, the poor working conditions, including child labour; health risks; and cycle of poverty of people that produce the tobacco leaf that forms the basis of the industry’s business are not included in employer evaluations.

The Top Employer Institute (TEI)

TEI is a private employer certification firm, founded in 1991 and headquartered in Amsterdam.3132 TEI has awarded the tobacco industry with “Top Employer” honours since 2011, when BAT began to receive this award for Europe. Tobacco companies routinely advertise their receipt of these awards. See, for example: Japan Tobacco International (JTI) in Armenia,33 Rothmans, Benson & Hedges (PMI) in Canada,34 BAT globally,35 and Imperial in Europe.36 The TEI website reveals that tobacco companies are some of the company’s most frequent awardees. As of July 2020, under the “Consumer Goods and Services” filter of its award page, TEI lists 126 total certified Global Top Employers. These include tobacco and other multinationals, including companies like Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, Adidas, Bayer, Mondelez and Nestle. Of the 126 total global-level certifications in this category, only one company, SAP Portugal, is not a PMI, JTI or BAT company.37

A picture of JTI employees smiling with TEI badges and a large "joinJTI" sign.

The Top Employer Institute (TEI) regularly awards the tobacco industry. This photo shows a news article in which JTI employees in Armenia celebrated being awarded Top Employer in February 2020. (source: banks.am)33

The certification process is described on the TEI website as including: administration of the proprietary “HR Best Practices Survey”, “validation” of answers and evidence provided, “independent external audit” of the process and “objective scoring” of final results.38 Information on what these processes entail, whom they are carried out by and what scoring criteria are employed is not available and so evaluation of the validity of its methodology is not possible.


The tobacco industry has received awards for innovation, which helps bolster its positioning as a forward-thinking, futuristic and technologically-savvy industry. For tobacco companies, product innovation of newer nicotine and tobacco products to maintain and add customers in a declining cigarette market is an essential part of their business strategy. The CSR awards gloss over the deadly reality of marketing and selling cigarettes that kill more than 8 million people worldwide per year.39 These awards are primarily administered by business and finance groups: British American Tobacco (BAT) won an award for “Best Fintech Solution” at the Adam Smith Awards in June 202040 and Japan Tobacco International (JTI) was recognised by The European Association of Corporate Treasurers with the EACT Award for its “data science approach to forecasting”.41 Philip Morris International (PMI) was also given innovation awards in 201942 and 202043 by business groups.

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