Private sector interests do not always respond to community concerns

The private sector has been getting a lot of attention over the last few days, especially after concerns were raised about the comments made by representatives of the Private Sector Commis-sion in the public and other media about the elections.  The whole issue of corporate social responsibility in a small country like Guyana has never been discussed properly and two recent issues in the media show the problems when powerful private sector interests do not respond to community concerns.

The first issue concerns Ansa McAl and their response to calls for their recent Stag Beer campaign to be withdrawn. It is interesting that only Guyana Chronicle published the letter from Help & Shelter.  The CEO of Ansa Mcal said that the campaign was misconstrued. The alcohol industry spends more money on its marketing than Guyana could spend on rehabilitation and recovery. The fact that other campaigns are not protested probably points to the futility of the protests – protests against the sexism and racism in the Mackeson campaigns have fallen on deaf ears (the one man holding on to two women). Now with Stag, the man’s beer, the community is encouraged to mobilise around consumption of alcohol. The alcohol industry likes to use the absence of research on the correlation between violence and alcohol use.

It is true, because of the nature of statistics perhaps, or the fatigue of reporting that the nurses and doctors at the hospital who curse holiday weekends, and the family members and others who struggle for safe communities do not come close to those who are conducting the research, that the industry will not believe the correlation. Minister Manickchand referred to this absence of the correlation when she embraced the alcohol industry during the Feminition expo.  There are views that beer is less problematic than rum and other spirits, but drinking patterns are not known. It is interesting that there was ‘Stag Beer and El Dorado Rum softball cricket‘ earlier this  year.

Is it because the alcohol industry realises that their products are often mixed and hence they had to continue to ensure that men especially consume their products? So that any research would have to be muddled?

The other issue is about how the removal of alcohol does not guarantee safer societies for women and children, we are talking about Guyana, where families and friends have experienced first hand how alcohol has intensified the violence that they experience. We read the newspapers about people killing themselves after drinking. Removing (and not banning) alcohol consumption from the factors related to violence has changed many people’s lives for the better.

If the alcohol industry wants to do something good for the children of Guyana, it should do so in consultation with the people who have to face the horrors resulting from  alcohol consumption. None of the alcohol companies have any sustained campaigns to ensure that children are not affected by the consumption of alcohol – in comparison the tobacco industry continues its poster campaign with vendors to stop the sale of cigarettes to children.

The goal in Guyana is to reduce alcohol consumption all round, (and not prohibition which has never worked). In a dysfunctional environment, there are no standards for alcohol advertising. Our culture already promotes alcohol usage, there is no excuse  for the alcohol industry to celebrate that destruction which is wrought on the communities.

The second issue – on the front page of the Guyana Times of December 10 – a picture of Digicel CEO, another promotion. Mr Deane is surrounded by ‘models,‘ all female and as always, none of them named as though they have no identity of their own beyond accessories to Mr Deane and Digicel. December 10 marks the end of 16 days of activism against gender based violence, often based on the view that women are property and objects who are sexualized – that women should be nameless ‘models.‘ The fact that Mr Deane chooses not to pose embracing any of his male colleagues or models, one has to ask, what do female bodies have to do with cell company profits in this Christmas season?

So while the private sector continues to be sanctimonious about the importance of its role and the bottom line, as we move on with this inclusive democracy, we should also be able to respond to the oppressive messages which the private sector push in the public domain to preserve that bottom line. One should hope that the free and independent media would also be allowed to publish the criticism of these messages.

Yours faithfully,
Vidyaratha Kissoon

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