Global Reporting Initiative

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The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is an international organisation which helps companies measure the impact of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes. Set up in 1997 by the sustainability NGO Ceres it split off in 2001 and now runs independently.

Its sustainability reporting framework requires companies to disclose their environmental, social and governance performance (ESG). According to the organisation its “GRI Standards” are developed with input from multi-stakeholder groups including “businesses, investors, policy makers, civil society, labor organizations and other experts”1 and are designed for organisations to “report on their sustainability impacts in a consistent and credible way” which “enhances global comparability and enables organizations to be transparent and accountable”.2

Involvement with Tobacco Companies

GRI Standards form part of the transnational tobacco companies’ annual reporting, either in separate sustainability or ESG reports (British American Tobacco),3 or integrated with their annual reports (Philip Morris International, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Tobacco).4 5 6 Using GRI Standards in sustainability reporting, serves to legitimise tobacco industry CSR initiatives and improve the reputation and credibility of interventions, such as projects focused on child labour, education and the environment.

Using PR companies

At the end of the nineties, under pressure to act, tobacco companies began to consider engaging with the corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda. If the industry could meet GRI’s Reporting Criteria, this would function as a so-called stamp of approval for its “ethical” behaviour.

Internal tobacco documents show that GRI was mentioned as an example of the kind of organisation that could provide independent expertise on constructing CSR charters. For instance PricewaterhouseCooper’s Head of Worldwide Reputation Assurance Practice, in a report to Philip Morris, identified the GRI reporting framework as “World Class” and a “Best Practice [for] Social Responsibility measures and reporting”.7 That same year, Business for Social Responsibility produced Social Reporting Primer, which described the GRI as “by far the most prominent CSR reporting standard. To date, more than 60 companies worldwide have formally referred to or followed the GRI guidelines in writing their reports”.8

The tobacco companies used leading PR companies to advise them. In 2000, Philip Morris had a document prepared by Burson-Marsteller on how it might work with a GRI representative to improve its social reporting.9

This led to a conference in 2001 on CSR involving GRI and other organisations. This initial CSR effort was delegated to Burson-Marsteller, which then reported back to Philip Morris. (See the page on WPP for more on Burson-Marsteller.)

British American Tobacco (BAT), meanwhile, employed Shandwick International and received positive recommendations about GRI.10 (Shandwick International merged with Weber Shandwick in 2001.)

BAT Faired Badly

The note of a meeting in 2000 between BAT and the Pensions & Investments Research Consultants (PIRC) helps explain tobacco companies’ interest in CSR. PIRC provides ethical advice to investment fund managers. The meeting had been called because, according to the minutes:11

“P.I.R.C. has produced a survey of corporate environmental reporting for 3 years (in January of each year). Their 2000 survey was highlighted in a recent letter to FTSE companies from the UK Minister for the Environment, Michael Meacher, encouraging Corporate Environmental Performance and Reporting. BAT fared quite badly in this survey, as the Company had not published a detailed environmental report at the time.”

Recovering “Brand Integrity”

From around 2001 onwards, companies such as BAT and Philip Morris began to roll out CSR initiatives. That year Philip Morris quoted GRI in a three-day in-house conference on improving its environmental reporting. The discussion session was called “Environmental Performance Indicators data collection Relationship with Global Reporting Initiative”12

The same year an internal report for BAT also recommended used GRI as a quality benchmark in its efforts to “recover global corporate brand integrity” and to “enhance its licence to operate” as a responsible company in a controversial industry.13

In 2005, RJ Reynolds included the GRI in its draft CSR report as an organisation it had used for its expertise.14

Relevant Links

Global Reporting Initiative website

TobaccoTactics Resources

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  1. Global Reporting Initiative, About GRI, GRI website, undated, accessed March 2021
  2. Global Reporting Initiative, Standards, GRI website, undated, accessed March 2021
  3. British American Tobacco, ESG Report 2020, 2021, accessed March 2021
  4. Philip Morris International, Integrated Report 2019, 2020, accessed March 2021
  5. Japan Tobacco International, Integrated Report 2019, 2020, accessed March 2021
  6. Imperial Brands, GRI and SASB Index, 2020, accessed March 2021
  7. Philip Morris, Corporate Responsibility Reporting and Verification, 3 January 2001, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 2085127576-2085127583
  8. Business for Social Responsibility, Social Reporting Primer, August 2001, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 2085127422-2085127435
  9. Burson-Marsteller and Philip Morris USA Corporate Responsibility Taskforce, The Global Reporting Initiative, 18 January 2000, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 2080984781-2080984782
  10. Shandwick International, The UN Global Compact: Advice Note for BAT, 11 December 2000, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 325046814-325046819, accessed March 2021
  11. British American Tobacco, Meeting with Pensions & Investments Research Consultants, 2 August 2000, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 321293503-321293504
  12. Philip Morris, Environmental Management Council, 7 November 2001, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 3001180477-3001180480
  13. British American Tobacco, Social Reporting (Post Scoping Study Proposal), 15 November 2000, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 325246810-325246818
  14. RJ Reynolds, Most copy for CSR report – not final, 30 December 2005, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 551848648-551848650