Heineken in Africa. A Multinational Unleashed, a critical book about the alleged business practices of the Dutch brewer in Africa, has been released on Thursday. The revelations in the book, which were partly already made public earlier last year, have led to “parliamentary questions being asked in both the Dutch national assembly and the European Parliament, a boycot in France, the divestment of a Dutch bank and the unilateral suspension of a partnership with a prominent NGO.”
Especially the use of so-called beer girls, who are often sexual targets of drunken customers, were widely discussed last year and led Heineken to suspended the use of promotional models in Mozambique (inside.beer, 6.7.2018).
The British daily newspaper The Guardian published on Tuesday an article by the author of the book, Olivier van Beemen, titled “Heineken claims its business helps Africa. Is that too good to be true?” In his article, the young Dutchman has several allegations against Heineken. He claims for example “that Heineken maintained close ties with the kleptocratic family clan that had ruled Tunisia for almost 25 years.” He also says “that in the early 1960s Heineken was an ardent supporter of a ‘white bloc’ of southern African countries, including Rhodesia, South Africa and the two Portuguese colonies Angola and Mozambique.” Further he accuses Heineken of channeling money “from Africa into a subsidiary in Switzerland, taking away an important source of fiscal revenue from the governments of newly formed independent states.” And, of course, he repeats the story about the abused beer promotion girls.
He also cites Heineken’s CEO Jean-François van Boxmeer, who reportedly warned van Beemen during their first meeting by saying: “Don’t turn this into a crusade against Heineken. You’re too young for that.”
However, he also admits that “the Dutch beer brewer’s behaviour resembles that of its competitors and other western companies in many respects.” The author says that his “aim is to provide an accurate image of a company that likes to blow its own trumpet regarding its supposed African success story – a story for which it has been lavishly praised, both inside the Netherlands and on the international stage, at the UN general assembly.”
In a direct response to the article John-Paul Schuirink, Director Global Communication and Global Corporate Affairs at Heineken, writes on Sunday also in The Guardian that Heineken does “not agree with the majority of these claims, which refer to events that allegedly happened many years or even several decades ago, but that are presented as if they are ongoing issues.”
He concludes his response with the words “Africa is an important part of Heineken’s history. We’ve been in Africa for over 100 years, operate in 21 countries and employ 13,500 people. In times when other companies were leaving the continent, we have continued to invest. In the last 10 years alone, we invested over €3bn. The author claims Heineken profits disproportionately from Africa, making more money per beer here than elsewhere. This allegation is incorrect as can be seen in our annual reports. We learn a lot from Africa and our aim in Africa, as elsewhere, is to make a positive impact.”