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Is the alcohol industry doing well by ‘doing good’? Findings from a content analysis of the alcohol industry’s actions to reduce harmful drinking
  1. Thomas F Babor1,
  2. Katherine Robaina1,
  3. Katherine Brown2,
  4. Jonathan Noel3,
  5. Mariana Cremonte4,
  6. Daniela Pantani5,
  7. Raquel I Peltzer4,
  8. Ilana Pinsky6
  1. 1 Department of Community Medicine and Health Care, University of Connecticut School of Medicine, Farmington, Connecticut, USA
  2. 2 Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS), London, UK
  3. 3 Department of Health Science, Johnson and Wales University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA
  4. 4 CONICET, Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata, Mar del Plata, Argentina
  5. 5 Department of Psychiatry, Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil
  6. 6 Psychiatry Institute, Columbia University, New York, USA
  1. Correspondence to Katherine Robaina; robaina{at}; kate.robaina{at}


Objectives The aims of this study were to: (1) describe alcohol industry corporate social responsibility (CSR) actions conducted across six global geographic regions; (2) identify the benefits accruing to the industry (‘doing well’); and (3) estimate the public health impact of the actions (‘doing good’).

Setting Actions from six global geographic regions.

Participants A web-based compendium of 3551 industry actions, representing the efforts of the alcohol industry to reduce harmful alcohol use, was issued in 2012. The compendium consisted of short descriptions of each action, plus other information about the sponsorship, content and evaluation of the activities. Public health professionals (n=19) rated a sample (n=1046) of the actions using a reliable content rating procedure.

Outcome measures WHO Global strategy target area, estimated population reach, risk of harm, advertising potential, policy impact potential and other aspects of the activity.

Results The industry actions were conducted disproportionately in regions with high-income countries (Europe and North America), with lower proportions in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Only 27% conformed to recommended WHO target areas for global action to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. The overwhelming majority (96.8%) of industry actions lacked scientific support (p<0.01) and 11.0% had the potential for doing harm. The benefits accruing to the industry (‘doing well’) included brand marketing and the use of CSR to manage risk and achieve strategic goals.

Conclusion Alcohol industry CSR activities are unlikely to reduce harmful alcohol use but they do provide commercial strategic advantage while at the same time appearing to have a public health purpose.

  • alcohol industry
  • harmful drinking
  • Iard
  • public health
  • corporate social responsibility

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  • Contributors TFB contributed to the design of the study, recruitment of personnel, planning of statistical analyses and drafting of the manuscript. KR contributed to the design of the study, accessed the raw data, supervised the coding procedures, conducted the statistical analyses, trained coders and helped to draft the manuscript. KB supervised the coding of EU data and helped to draft the manuscript. JN contributed to the design of the study, conducted some of the statistical analyses and helped to draft the manuscript. MC and RIP recruited and supervised the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) raters, conducted ratings, assisted with the statistical analyses and contributed to the drafting of the manuscript. DP supervised LAC raters, conducted ratings, assisted with the statistical analyses and contributed to the design of the study. IP contributed to the design of the study, obtained funding for the LAC data collection and analyses, conducted ratings and contributed to the drafting of the manuscript. All authors read, edited and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding The research was supported by the Institute of Alcohol Studies and Dr. Babor’s Endowed Chair in Community Medicine and Public Health. The analysis of the Latin America and the Caribbean industry actions was funded by the International Development Research Centre (funding number 107203-001).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement The industry action summaries are no longer available from the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking website. Copies can be requested from the authors or IARD. The data coded from these summaries, which were used in the current study, are available from the authors upon reasonable request.

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