So, what is the social responsibility of an alcohol company – or is it even possible for an alcohol company to be socially responsible?

Movies in the 60s and 70s invariably distinguished between the hero and the villain based on their alcohol habits. The hero abstained and the villain mostly drank too much and misbehaved. Today though, things are different, as alcohol has been given social legitimacy in many segments of society. Alcoholic beverages are now part of weddings, company events and family celebrations. But, even while social drinking has gained acceptance, our society is also grappling with alcohol misuse. People who drink excessively can become a public nuisance and incite domestic violence. Underage drinking is unhealthy for young children. Drinking and driving leads to accidents and loss of lives. The problems are many and multifaceted.

So, what is the social responsibility of an alcohol company – or is it even possible for an alcohol company to be socially responsible? Abanti Sankaranarayanan – Chief Strategy & Corporate Affairs Officer Diageo India and a member of its Executive Committee, says, “Our ambition is to be the best performing, most trusted and respected consumer products companies in India. Playing a positive role in society is at the heart of this.” The company focuses on three key areas globally – reducing environmental impact, building thriving communities and leadership for alcohol in society.

As an industry frontrunner, reducing alcohol misuse and championing moderation in alcohol consumption, is a boardroom conversation and not a peripheral activity for the ‘CSR Department’. Diageo plc Chairman Javier Ferran, is also Chairman of the CEO Group at the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD), which brings together the 11 largest alcohol producers in the world to encourage moderation and tackle harm.
Abanti says, “Our view of ‘Alcohol in Society’ starts with recognizing that alcohol when consumed excessively or harmfully, can cause problems for individuals, communities, and society. Even when consumed moderately and responsibly by adults who choose to drink, alcohol can be part of a balanced lifestyle, Diageo plays a constructive and significant role in reducing alcohol harm, working in partnership with governments, NGO’s and civil society. The company focuses on reducing alcohol-related harm through programmatic interventions and also seeks to provide consumers with the information and tools they need to make informed choices about drinking or not drinking, what to drink and how much to drink. This year, IARD members have committed to address the use of technology and data in digital marketing, to ensure that they are targeting adult consumers in a responsible way.

As part of the strategy for reducing alcohol-related harm, Diageo has set 20 ambitious targets to achieve the UN’s Global Goals and support WHO programmes on health, such as the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases.

Beyond addressing alcohol misuse, Road Safety is an area of focus in India. Diageo’s ‘Road to Safety’ in its 5th year running, is based on four ‘Es’ — Education, Enforcement (of rules and regulations), Emergency (Services) and Engineering . The program is implemented through a host of partners such as police departments, universities, state and central governments and more.

And this is not all – Diageo’s community investment and programmes promote skills and employability, empowers women and increases access to clean water. The company is working with women in local communities around the company’s over 50 bottling plants in semi-urban and rural areas of the country. Abanti talks about how important it is to find the right interventions to help rural women find sustainable livelihoods. She says, “We want to help people not just for their immediate needs, but for the long term. For instance, in Alwar a self-help group (SHG) of 20 women has been trained and supported to set up a micro enterprise to produce low cost sanitary napkins. They are producing and marketing their products to more than 20 villages now. We have worked with them through skilling, helping then set up the SHG and then supporting them in this initiative.”

Diageo’s Water of Life programme has reached over 10 million people in 21 countries since 2006, making a real impact on vulnerable communities. In India, the company has setup water ATM’s in Nagpur and Bhopal. Apart from making much needed clean drinking water available to people, the water ATMs also provide employment to many women.

Over the last decade, Diageo worldwide has reduced carbon emissions from direct operations by 41% and from the entire supply chain by 23%. Diageo is now focusing on investments in renewable energy and water efficiency, as well as reducing and recycling plastics.

Diageo takes its responsibility towards the society seriously. Not only does it work to mitigate the negative aspects of alcohol by promoting responsible consumption but makes a genuine contribution to the society through its work on water, uplifting women entrepreneurship and environmental stewardship. By working alone and in partnership with companies in the industry, Diageo sticks to its credo of being the most trusted and respected company.

In conversation with Abanti Sankaranarayanan – Chief Strategy & Corporate Affairs Officer Diageo India and a member of its Executive Committee. For the Responsible Future blog