The BAT Files: How British American Tobacco Bought Influence in Africa

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The TobaccoTactics long read British American Tobacco: Dirty Deeds in Africa describes how British American Tobacco (BAT) has used a range of unethical and corrupt practices in markets across Africa – to maintain its profits, to block or weaken tobacco control measures, and to undermine its competitors.

Tactics range from the exploitation of farmers and use of child labour to threats and intimidation, and a “continent-spanning spy network”. All to pursue BAT’s own commercial goals.

Examples from across the region feature on an illustrative map, and below are links to further reading which provide a comprehensive understanding of the company’s activities in Africa.

Sabotage, Deceit and Duplicity: British American Tobacco Uncovered

Significant new reports and briefings can be found on the BAT Uncovered micro-site of TCRG’s partner organisation STOP at

These cover new allegations of bribery across Africa, and dirty tricks in South Africa.

Briefing papers on BAT’s alleged capture of state agencies, potential complicity in smuggling in South Africa and alleged connection to an attempted bribery conspiracy in Zimbabwe will be published on this site in due course.

Buying Influence and Advantage in Africa

Analysis of whistleblower documents by the Tobacco Control Research Group (TCRG) at the University of Bath found a “large number of questionable payments” made by BAT over a five-year period.  This huge international corporation used these payments to influence policy and undermine competing tobacco companies, both international and local.

BAT made payments impacting ten countries in East and Central Africa. They were made to politicians and civil servants, staff of competitor companies, journalists, farmers and others involved in positions of potential influence.  The use of these payments appeared to be systematized and supported by senior staff, including in BAT’s London office.

The full report details the payments and describes the serious consequences of this unethical business activity. It also suggests that governments globally should more closely examine BAT’s behaviour.

The leaked source documents are publicly available in the UCSF Industry Documents Library Africa Collection (University of California, San Francisco).

Dirty Tricks in South Africa

In the report on British American Tobacco in South Africa, TCRG researchers explain how BAT has fought to maintain its dominance of this key market over decades, in the face of increased competition and growing illicit trade. The report describes how the company has used “any means necessary” to hold its position, including paying another company to run a “massive secret surveillance and informant network in Southern Africa on behalf of BAT”.

The report details BAT’s use of third party service providers, allegedly overseen and run by senior operatives at BAT’s London headquarters.  It also explains how BAT is “yet to face meaningful consequences for its actions either in the region or at home in the U.K.” after the U.K. Serious Fraud Office (SFO) dropped its five-year investigation in January 2021.

BAT has repeatedly denied accusations of corporate espionage, corruption and law-breaking,2 but new analysis of leaked documents raises serious questions about BAT’s activities in South Africa, particularly in relation to tobacco smuggling and tax evasion.

The research by the TCRG was carried out in collaboration with BBC’s Panorama, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Organized Crime and Reporting Project.

See also:

The BBC’s Panorama documentary programme, broadcast on 13 September 2021, which “unveils new revelations about the corrupt practices deployed by one of Britain’s biggest companies.”3

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

Victoria Hollingsworth tells the true story of corrupt practices behind the scenes at British American Tobacco. Hear from the very people caught up in this world as the Bureau sinks deep into the dirty underbelly of the tobacco industry in South Africa.

BAT in Africa: A History of Double Standards

TobaccoTactics details the history of BAT’s double standards, exposing a difference between its stated goals and principles, and its activities in low and middle-income African countries.  It includes links to earlier allegations against BAT, featured in a 2015 Panorama programme and media coverage at the time.

This page brings the story up to date…


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  1. R.R. Jackson, A. Rowell, A.B. Gilmore, “Unlawful Bribes?”: A documentary analysis showing British American Tobacco’s use of payments to secure policy and competitive advantage in Africa, 13 September 2021, UCSF: Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. Available from
  2. BAT, BAT emphatically rejects mischaracterisation of anti-illicit trade activities, BAT web site, 13 September 2021, accessed September 2021
  3. Dirty Secrets of the Cigarette Business, BBC Panorama, 13 September 2021
  4. Chapman, V. Hollingsworth, A. Aviram and M. Rees, Smoke Screen: BAT’s agents brokered bribe proposal, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 13 September 2021, accessed September 2021