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Netherlands: ASN Bank Divests From Heineken

Netherlands: ASN Bank Divests From Heineken

The Dutch Bank ASN has announced its decision to divest from Dutch beer giant Heineken.

The ASN Bank has decided to remove Heineken from its sustainable equity fund. The reason for this decision are the revelations of Heineken’s practice to use beer girls to sell their products in Africa. An ASN spokesperson said:

We have had discussions about this with Heineken and at this moment we do not see that enough is being done.”

These revelations were uncovered by investigative journalist Olivier van Beemen. In the wake of the publication of his book ‘Beer for Africa’ the beer giant has come under intense scrutiny for their unethical business practices.

Heineken’s exploitation of women

To stimulate beer sales, Heineken uses beer girls in ten African countries. The promotional girls speak of being confronted with unwanted intimacies during their work.

Our employer thinks: if you do not want to be groped, you have to look for another job.”

The girls are also pressured into having intercourse with their managers, without payment. Some of these girls are prostitutes at the same time, and they use the beer promotion to get in touch with customers. A former employee of Heineken in Nigeria, who is familiar with the problem, confirms that this is happening.

Even at events organized by Nigerian Breweries, young promotional girls are hired and often the same thing happens: sex is regarded as a transaction in Nigeria, also at Heineken.”

Appalling 18 years after the first reports of abuses came to light, Heineken is to this date using young women and their bodies to boost beer sales and the profits of a few shareholders and executives.

It is a marketing strategy to sexualize beer,” says Nigerian researcher Dumbili.

It confirms beer drinking as a male, heterosexual activity.”

The brewer acknowledges – in response to this story in NRC Handelsblad – that sexual harassment “deserves more attention than it has received from us and other stakeholders in recent years.”

These findings (and more) are presented in a new book “Beer for Africa; the Best Kept Secret of Heineken” written and researched by Olivier van Beemen. Download van Beemen’s news brief here.

Evidence from South-East Asia shows that this method of using beer girls has been going for decades, promises of improvements for the women’s workplace safety and health situation had been made, but it is still common and pervasive that beer girls are exposed to threats, forced alcohol consumption, harassment and sexual abuse, as well as too low wages so that they are forced to sell sex to survive.

In 2003 an investigative report detailed that beer girls

… wear tight dresses with the colours and logos of Heineken…  The number of HIV infections is high because sometimes an evening of beer drinking ends in unprotected sex with customers. Heineken is jointly responsible, according to Lubek [a Canadian psychologist]”

An ILO report from 2006 entitled “Cambodia’s ‘Beer Promotion Girls’ their recruitment, working conditions and vulnerabilities” implicated Heineken and outlined among other aspects:

Beer promotion, in addition to billboards and spots on television, is an approach that has been taken by companies and distributors to generate greater sales.

Only women are employed and they are based in various restaurants and beer gardens, creating sales by requesting clients to buy the brand they are endorsing. While the clients are in the restaurant, they talk with them, make sure they have what they in need in terms of food and drinks. They regularly pour the beer even in half-full glasses, as a way to make clients drink more, and accomplish repeat orders.

The report also stated that the conditions of employment are making workers vulnerable, such as:

  • harassment, in the form of verbal and physical abuse;
  • alcohol use;
  • the perception that beer promotion girls are sex ‘workers’; and
  • the pressure to reach certain sales quotas which directly impact on incomes.

Sexualizing women

For example, the survey found that 85% of all respondents reported suffering from a health problem, the most common of which were fever, dizziness, and headaches.

Respondents also recounted ailments in form of stomach pains, and ulcers with varying intensities and durations, possibly arising from irregular meals or excessive consumption of alcohol.

Awareness regarding STI and HIV/AIDS transmission and prevention is high, judging by the respondents who correctly identified infection routes and how these can be prevented, at 74% and 95% of the total respectively.

Heineken has a track record of sexualizing and objectifying women in their marketing.

Further reading:

Heineken Company Profile

Source Website: STAP