British American Tobacco - Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

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Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted the world. At BAT, our thoughts are with everyone whose lives have been impacted by this virus. It has affected society as a whole and changed the way we work.

At the beginning of the crisis, we acted swiftly, ensuring we could continue to operate effectively and, most importantly, safely. We did this thanks to the extraordinary commitment, energy and passion of our teams around the world. We have done our best throughout the pandemic to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our 55,000+ employees worldwide and support our customers and those we work closely with.

Our strong capabilities in science, engineering and logistics have enabled us to support national responses and local communities. As at 31 December 2020, we had donated over £10 million in cash and in kind to COVID-19-related relief funds and efforts.

Working remotely has been the norm for many at BAT. Where that has not been possible, measures have been put in place to keep our people safe and secure.

Our COVID-19 candidate vaccine

Our rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic is an example of how our in-house scientific expertise is helping build A Better Tomorrow™.

BAT’s U.S. bio-tech subsidiary, Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP), is developing a candidate COVID-19 vaccine. Its Initial New Drug application was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December 2020 and we have progressed into a Phase I human clinical trial of this candidate vaccine.

The candidate vaccine has been developed using KBP’s innovative fast-growing plant-based technology. This unique approach has a number of possible advantages, including the rapid production of the vaccine’s active ingredients in around six weeks, compared to several months using conventional methods.

The candidate vaccine also has the potential to be stable at room temperature, which could be a significant advantage for healthcare systems and public health networks worldwide. If successful, the speed of production of the active ingredients has the potential to reduce the time between identifying new viruses and strains, and vaccine development and deployment to those who need it.

KBP, which specialises in the production of plant-expressed proteins, has also conducted a Phase I clinical study of its quadrivalent (four-strain) influenza vaccine candidate, which uses the same plant-based technology platform.

Looking after our people

The Group’s management has been doing all that it can to make sure that employees working from home feel connected. Our digital transformation enabled us to swiftly shift to remote home working where needed.

Most importantly, we have worked to ensure that the health, safety and wellbeing of employees who are unable to work from home, and those in countries where lockdown restrictions have not been in place, are protected in their workplace. For all employees, we have made sure they are aware of the extensive wellbeing support available to them, including:

  • online medical consultations;
  • counselling services;
  • and mental health support.

Keeping our people engaged has been a priority too and we held our first ever #StrongerTogether virtual 24-hour event, for all our global employees, in July 2020. Our employee networks also adapted to the challenges of COVID-19, such as our B United LGBT+ community who have held virtual Pride celebrations around the world.

Other support during the pandemic

Testing and logistical support - We have harnessed our strengths in science, engineering and logistics to support national responses to COVID-19. This includes setting up a dedicated COVID-19 testing laboratory for local healthcare works near our R&D campus in Southampton, UK, loaning specialist equipment from our R&D laboratory for use in COVID-19 testing, manufacturing hand sanitisers and producing personal protective equipment (PPE) in some of our factories. We are also making donations around the world to support local efforts.

Protecting vulnerable farming communities - We are supporting tobacco-growing communities that may be particularly vulnerable to both the virus and its long-term economic implications. We have worked to keep farms and trading floors operating safely and have distributed PPE and other essential items. Meanwhile, in countries such as Kenya, we have enhanced access to clean water and handwashing facilities. 

Supplier engagement - We have maintained fast, two-way relationships with suppliers. This means that, as the situation changes, we can respond together effectively. We have also helped suppliers struggling with cash flow issues by ensuring that, where needed, they are paid earlier than existing payment terms require.

Employee training - We are ensuring all our employees still get the training they need on our Standards of Business Conduct (SoBC). For those without easy online access, who would normally have face-to-face group training sessions, we have developed a training booklet, which is safely accessible through our SoBC app.


The global COVID-19 pandemic caused great upheaval for businesses globally. There were disruptions for BAT, including product, sales and supply chain restrictions, and the restriction in sales of vapour products in 2020 in South Africa in response to COVID-19. Despite these, we are proud of the resilience our teams on the ground have demonstrated to continue delivery. The pandemic also impacted our consumer-activation plans in some key markets including Japan, the US and Europe. Even under these challenging circumstances, we continued to deliver against our strategy and grew our New Categories business by 15% in the year ended 31 December 2020.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to bring uncertainty around the world, our number one priority will continue to be safeguarding the health and wellbeing of our people and those who work closely with us.