Corporate Responsibility: Alcohol giant backs peer education initiative

Joe Gill

Drinks firm Diageo is funding a peer education project in 30 secondary schools across Britain run by not-for-profit social and health education body Tacade.

Diageo's backing comes as it seeks to increase the visibility of its support for responsible drinking, following a backlash against the marketing of alcohol to young people.

According to Alcohol Concern, alcohol consumption among under-18s has doubled in the past decade. The Portman Group, the industry's self-regulatory body, has reported a signifcant rise in binge drinking among young women.

Helen Lee, development and training manager at Tacade, said: "We are happy to work with companies if we have complete editorial control of material and projects. We have made it very clear that Diageo will not have any control over the messages or the direction the project takes."

She added: "We are still critical of some of the marketing strategies employed by the industry, and of the fact that alcopops are an easy way to increase the use of alcohol by young people."

The project was piloted in four schools during the last academic year, and is now being rolled out to a further 30. Students are invited to volunteer or selected to train as peer educators, because a peer-led approach has been found to be the most effective in drug education programmes.

Lee explained: "The projects look at such areas as risk, sexual behaviour, accidents and the way in which alcohol is used as a way of managing other issues in young people's lives. It's important that the students determine the direction of the projects."

The primary aim of the project is not to stop youngsters drinking, however.

"It encourages safe, sensible and moderate drinking, with the very clear option of not drinking," said Lee.

Diageo GB's social responsibility project manager, Vanessa Williamson, said the company had increased its investment in projects dealing with under-age drinking in the past two years.

She said: "We didn't have any form of relationship with schools, so we really wanted to work with someone who had a track record of high-quality programmes and who we could leave in control of the project."

MONITOR

Rosie Brocklehurst, director of communications, Addaction

This is a positive initiative - the arm's-length approach is wise. There may be a strong business reason for the alcohol industry's support of education initiatives, but that does not rule out a real concern to stop irresponsible alcohol promotion.

Currently, the industry is more comfortable funding small education and prevention projects. However, a radical move to invest directly in health could make a dramatic difference in this hugely underfunded area. Prevention is useful, but it is only one strand of effective policy needed to address the UK's enormous problem with alcohol.

That said, Addaction was grateful when it received a small sum from SABMiller to support an evaluation of its 'Know Limits' resource pack for young people, and through it opened up constructive dialogue. That constitutes progress.

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