Alcohol charities should declare funding from drinks industry, report says

Jim McCambridge of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the report's senior author, says such a move would ensure greater transparency

Jim McCambridge

Alcohol charities and charities operating in other policy areas should be made to declare funding that comes from the alcohol industry in order to improve transparency, according to a new report from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

The Alcohol Industry, Charities and Policy Influence in the UK, published this week, looks at major charities in the UK that are both active in alcohol policy and funded by the industry.

These are Drinkaware, which receives 98 per cent of its funding from the industry; the Robertson Trust, which is almost completely funded by the whisky-maker Edrington, itself controlled by the trust; and the British Institute of Innkeeping, which is funded by membership fees and member services.

According to the LSHTM researchers, Addaction and Mentor UK also receive industry funding as well as public sector grants. The study notes that these two charities share office space above a pub.

The report says that corporations are "legally required to serve the interests of their shareholders" and that "a key component of corporate strategy is doing what is necessary, within the law, to influence policy, directly and indirectly and both openly and behind closed doors".

It says Addaction and Mentor UK are the only remaining non-industry, non-governmental members of the Public Health Responsibility Deal’s alcohol network. All other public health interest groups have resigned from the policy network, mostly because of concerns about industry influence on policy and the decision not to implement minimum alcohol unit pricing last year, it says.

The report authors said that the confidentiality of some donors in annual reports and accounts limited the study, because it was not always possible to determine the full nature of funding arrangements.

Jim McCambridge of the LSHTM, the senior author of the report, said that although the tobacco industry’s use of "corporate philanthropy as a political device" was well understood, little attention had been paid to the situation with alcohol.

"There could be much more industry funding of alcohol charities than we uncovered in our study because charities are not required to declare all funding sources," he said. "Charities operating in alcohol or other policy arenas should be required to declare any possible conflicts of interest from funding sources to ensure greater transparency."

In January, Drinkaware announced what it called "radical changes to its governance arrangements" in response to an audit that found perceptions of a lack of independence from the industry that funds it, although this audit also said there was "no specific evidence" of impropriety.

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