British American Tobacco Funding War in West Africa by Oversupplying Region with Cigarettes

by Vins
Published: Updated:

In May 2021, CorpWatch reported on British American Tobacco’s (BAT) plan to open a cigarette factory in Mali that year. This, the result of a complicated partnership between the Malian government and BAT, was expected to manufacture three billion Dunhill cigarettes and create at least 200 permanent jobs.

BAT is not responding to a shortage in product. In fact, Dunhill cigarettes are readily available in Mali. Dunhill cigarettes produced by BAT are already sold in 38 African countries, and the company has a 90 percent market share in 11 countries, including Sierra Leone and South Africa. Additionally, cigarettes are regularly smuggled into rebel-held areas throughout the country and parts of North Africa, funding a long, brutal war in the West African region. Since 2012, more than two million people have been displaced in the conflicts, according to an extensive February 2021 report by Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

“Mali was such an important market that BAT undertook a two-pronged strategy. The company set out to secure a ‘license to operate’ by schmoozing government officials,” Andy Rowell, a senior researcher at the University of Bath, told OCCRP. Rowell is also a part of the university’s anti-tobacco watchdog group Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP). “At the same time, the company sought to ‘delay and disrupt’ the operations of the opposition (rival tobacco companies).”

In September 2021, Devex reported on a recent study by the University of Bath, which found that BAT completed “questionable payments” between 2008 and 2013, such as hand-delivering cash and making sizable campaign donations, in an attempt to influence national policies. According to the University of Bath’s Tobacco Control Research Group’s analyses, these payments totaled over $600,000 and were spread throughout eleven African countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, and Rwanda.

After combing through trade data and official BAT documents as well as interviews with officials and local militia leaders, OCCRP estimates BAT is responsible for a 4.7 billion surplus of cigarettes in Mali each year.

In September 2021, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in partnership with BBC, released a similar expose, detailing many of BAT’s schemes, including knowingly sabotaging its competitors, paying bribes, and carrying out illegal surveillance. In September 2021, BAT released a statement disputing these claims, arguing it has “been committed to fighting the global criminal trade in illicit tobacco.” BAT has yet to respond to OCCRP’s original report.

Paula Reisdorf, “BAT Knowingly Oversupplying Mali with Cigarettes, Fueling Bloody Conflict,” CorpWatch, May 13, 2021.

Sarah Jerving, “Report: British American Tobacco Used Payments, Surveillance in Africa,” DevEx, September 14, 2021.

Student Researcher: Emily Jones (SUNY Cortland)
Faculty Evaluator: Christina Knopf (SUNY Cortland)