british american tobacco p.l.c. sustainability report 2010 - Addressing social media allegations

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Sustainability Report 2010
Meeting

At British American Tobacco it is not our policy to use social media or networking sites to promote our brands and our International Marketing Standards (IMS) include clear guidelines on age verification for any web advertising. British American Tobacco Austalasia, however, does not engage in any form of web advertising of its products or brands.

We also have rules that our employees and business partners should not post advertising material on user-generated content sites such as YouTube or Facebook. These rules represent the application of Group policies and standards, including our IMS and Standards of Business Conduct, in particular circumstances. However, with the content of the web being vast and ever-changing, no company can police it exhaustively.

In early 2010, British American Tobacco Australasia was made aware of research being conducted by the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health on the alleged use of social media to promote our cigarette brands. This led to the University’s report, ‘British American Tobacco on Facebook’ being published in April 2010.

Prior to the report’s publication, British American Tobacco Australasia commissioned an external agency to review social media and networking sites to identify any instances of our brands being featured. The review included publicly available information on social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Bebo, Wikipedia, Twitter and publicly available blogs.

The review found some British American Tobacco Australasia product brand presence on these sites. This was believed to have been posted by the general public, consumers and some employees and contractors in a personal capacity, not by any of the local companies. In the few cases where inappropriate material was found to have been posted on employees’ personal web pages, in breach of our IMS and Group internet rules, the individuals had by then already left the company.

These instances highlighted a need for further communication to remind employees and contractors of their existing obligations and responsibilities in relation to the internet. This included reminding employees of the Group’s internet rules through team briefing sessions and providing additional guidance. As well as providing clarity on the guidelines, the communication raised awareness of the related risks to the business.

A key challenge in this area is balancing the need to protect the commercial interests of the Group, manage business risks and adhere to Group policies and standards, while respecting employees’ personal freedoms. It was hoped that by focusing the internal communications on reiterating the Group’s rules and the potential consequences of non-adherence, the distinction for employees from their private actions was clear.

British American Tobacco Australasia plans to continue this communication on a regular basis to help ensure that all employees continue to understand and comply with Group policies and standards.