Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India

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Background

The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM India) is the country’s largest apex industry body. Set up in 1920, it represents more than 400 chambers and trade associations throughout India and describes itself as ‘The Knowledge Architect of India’.1 Its members include two of India’s biggest tobacco companies.

Relationship with the Tobacco Industry

Patron members of ASSOCHAM include India’s largest cigarette manufacturer ITC Ltd, which is 29.57% owned by British American Tobacco.2 Anil Rajput, ITC’s Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs was listed as the company’s nominated representative to ASSOCHAM in 2019. 3 Membership for patrons costs 531,000.00 Indian rupees (USD$7334) annually and ensures companies a raft of privileges, including:

  • an assured seat on ASSOCHAM’s management committee and preference in nomination to be chairman or co-chairman.
  • preference in taking part in presentations to parliamentary standing committees.
  • priority to join meetings with senior state and national Government officials, Secretaries and Ministers, foreign dignitaries and delegations. 4

Another tobacco industry corporate member is Godfrey Philips India Ltd (GPIL), the flagship company of the multi-billion dollar Modi Enterprises, and a partner manufacturer / distributor of Marlboro cigarettes in India under license from Philip Morris International5 . PMI holds a 25% stake in GPIL. 6
Ordinary ASSOCHAM membership allows “close interaction with… central and state government, international agencies and academia”, as well nomination to management committee elections, and “committees/Advisory Forums constituted by Central/State governments”, among other benefits. 7. However, meetings between tobacco industry representatives and government officials or politicians run contrary to India’s obligations under Article 5.3 of the legally binding World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). This forbids parties to the treaty from including tobacco executives in policy deliberations due to “the fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests”. 8

CSR Council Chaired by Tobacco Corporate Affairs Boss

ITC senior executive Anil Rajput has chaired ASSOCHAM India’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Council since 2016. 910The practice of CSR by the tobacco industry in India has been criticised as “one more tool for unscrupulous companies to circumvent the public health laws”.11 Given that tobacco advertising is banned in India, it is argued that CSR activities allow ITC the opportunity for “proxy advertising” to improve its corporate image, as well as contact with policymakers. For instance, ITC’s former chairman YC Deveshwar was a member of the Government Committee constituted by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs in 2012 to develop CSR rules. 11
Anil Rajput also chairs ASSOCHAM’s National Council on Advertising, Marketing Brand Promotion and Protection, a position he has held since 2017.912

Lobbying for Indian Tobacco Farmers and Trade Bodies’ COP7 Invitation

In November 2016, ASSOCHAM Secretary General DS Rawat wrote to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare demanding tobacco farmers and industry trade bodies be allowed to take part in the seventh Conference of Parties (COP 7) to the WHO FCTC anti-tobacco treaty, which India was hosting for the first time that same month. An excerpt from ASSOCHAM’s letter released to the media argued that:

“India is a global agricultural powerhouse. Indian agriculture supports more than 50 per cent population for livelihood and is the largest contributor to GDP i.e. 13 per cent. Tobacco has been one of the important cash cropwhich makes the farmers self-reliant. Tobacco alone provides employment to 4.6 crore 46 million people in the country. We are requesting Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to invite all relevant stakeholder engage in the business of tobacco especially farmers and trade bodies representing tobacco industry”. 13

This followed representations on this issue by the tobacco industry and its chief lobby group The Tobacco Institute of India in the months beforehand. 14 The Ministry rejected all requests, although did agree to meet with the farmers after COP7. 15
The push to ensure Indian tobacco farmers and the general public were not excluded from observing the FCTC COP7 proceedings was a tactic exposed in a leaked Philip Morris International 2014 strategy PowerPoint presentation exposed by Reuters in 2017. The same document also includes PMI’s description of the FCTC as a “regulatory runaway train” and identifies Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a prime lobbying target to prevent him taking “extreme anti-tobacco measures”. 16

Lobby Against Larger Pictorial Health Warnings on Tobacco Products

ASSOCHAM was part of the network of seemingly independent third party groups mobilised by the tobacco companies between April 2014 and April 2016 against the Indian Health Ministry’s proposed size increase in graphic health warnings (GHWs)17 covering the front and back of cigarette packs from an average 20% to 85%.18
Outraged by the proposal for what it called “excessive” warning sizes, India’s multibillion-dollar tobacco industry unleashed its full playbook of tactics to try to derail the Health Ministry’s plans.17 Aggressive political lobbying and legal bullying, in particular, delayed implementation until 2016 – at least an extra year longer than anticipated for the passage of the legislation.19The industry, backed by ASSOCHAM among other trade lobby groups, had argued that the new rules would have unintended consequences such as increased cigarette smuggling and enormous impacts on farmer livelihoods, among other issues. 20
The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Amendment Rules, 2014 (COTPA) came into effect from April 1, 201621 although legal challenges continued until 2018.19 The new law saw India rise from number 136 to third on a country ranking of tobacco pictorial warnings worldwide in 2016. 22

Requesting Revisions of Tobacco Control Act Amendments

In November 2014, ASSOCHAM sent a 12-page letter to Cabinet Minister Nripendra Misra, at the time the Principal Secretary to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking the government to reconsider an expert committee’s proposed amendments to the national tobacco control law (The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Rules, 2008).23 Revisions were necessary, it said, to “save livelihood of scores of tobacco farmers and farm workers, bide hand-rolled cigarettes workers, tribals and retailers.” 24
ASSOCHAM’s letter outlined seven key concerns mirroring the tobacco companies’ oft-used arguments including quotes from tobacco industry-commissioned research from Deloitte (2011) and London Economics (2013)23 on packaging and health warnings. These covered:

  • larger health warnings;
  • sales of loose tobacco products and individual sticks of cigarettes;
  • Point of Sale advertising;
  • retail displays;
  • smoking in public places;
  • the use of additives in cigarette and tobacco products, and;
  • tobacco trademarks and brand names for non-tobacco products.23

Publishing Studies on the Tobacco Trade

ASSOCHAM India publishes reports on the tobacco industry and the economic impact of illicit trade on it and other sectors. A June 2019 study, conducted on its behalf by the Thought Arbitrage Research Institute (TARI), estimated that the tobacco industry contributes “a whopping Rs 11,79,498 (USD 118million) crore to Indian economy and employs an estimated 4.57 crore 46 million people”. TARI claimed this “was the first time the economic contribution made by the tobacco sector to India’s economy has been quantified”.25
Its research on the impact of illicit trade at times has at times mirrored the tobacco companies’ own arguments. A 2008 report, ‘Combating Counterfeiting – Brand Protection’, for instance, blamed high taxes on domestic cigarettes as the main reason for increased demand for smuggled cigarettes. In a statement ASSOCHAM claimed:
“large volumes of such (smuggled) cigarettes coming from across the borders will gradually kill the domestic industry and consequently, severely affect the livelihood of the five million tobacco farmers, mainly in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka”.26

TobaccoTactics Resources

Relevant Link

References

  1. ASSOCHAM India, About Us website, accessed November 2019
  2. BAT, 2018 Annual Report, website, accessed November 2019
  3. ASSOCHAM, Membership – Selected Patron Members, Word download list created February 2019, accessed November 2019
  4. ASSOCHAM Patron Members, Patron Members, accessed November 2019
  5. Godfrey Philips India Ltd, Company: Who We Are, undated, accessed November 2019
  6. Market Screener, Godfrey Philips India Limited, accessed November 2019
  7. ASSOCHAM, Benefits / Services to Members At A Glance, undated, accessed November 2019
  8. WHO World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) Article 5.3, website, accessed November 2019
  9. abAnil Rajput, LinkedIn, accessed December 2019
  10. ASSOCHAM CSR Council, website undated, accessed November 2019
  11. abN.V. Rao, Neethi V Rao: Corporate social responsibility in India, thebmjopinion, 9 May 2014, accessed November 2019
  12. FICCI, Team Anil Rajput, website undated, accessed December 2019
  13. Press Trust of India, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/invite-tobacco-industry-bodies-in-cop-7-meetficciassocham/1/802734 Invite tobacco industry bodies in COP7 meet: FICCI, ASSOCHAM, India Today, November 4, 2016
  14. PTI, Tobacco Institute of India demands farmers, industry inclusion in WHO FCTC conference, Indian Express, 30 August 2016, accessed November 2019
  15. IANS, Health ministry says ready to talk to tobacco farmers, but not at COP7, 7 November 2016, accessed November 2019
  16. PMI, 2014 Corporate Affairs Approach and Issues, accessed November 2019
  17. abSTOP, Crooked Nine: Nine Ways the Tobacco Industry Undermines Health,19 September 2019,accessed February 2020
  18. Canadian Cancer Society, Cigarette Package Health Warnings International Status Report, 5th Edition, FCTC website, October 2016, accessed December 2019
  19. abA. Ghosh, 85 per cent warning on tobacco packs: How the battle continues in the courts, Indian Express, 15 January 2018, accessed November 2019
  20. Press Trust India,
    Cigarette smuggling to hit tobacco farmers hard: ASSOCHAM, 11 March 2008, accessed November 2019
  21. Economic Times, Tobacco products to carry pictorial warning on 85% of packaging space: Supreme Court, 14 August 2018, accessed November 2019
  22. Express News Service, India has third largest pictorial warnings on tobacco products, Indian Express, 11 November 2016, accessed November 2019
  23. abcD S Rawat, 48890116?ref=https://www.newslaundry.com/ Request to reconsider proposed changes in the Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products, November 2014, accessed November 2019
  24. A. Jithendra, U. Bhojani, How The Tobacco Industry Wins Friends And Influences Policy, News Laundry, 2 June 2015, accessed November 2019
  25. PTI, Rs 11.79 lakh cr Indian tobacco sector employs 4.5 cr people, Economic Times, June 2019, accessed November 2019
  26. Press Trust India,
    Cigarette smuggling to hit tobacco farmers hard: ASSOCHAM, 11 March 2008, accessed November 2019