New book reveals a series of unethical business practices by Heineken in Africa

Collaboration with dictators and an alleged war criminal. Tax avoidance in African countries. High level corruption. Exploitation of weak political systems. High profits on beer sales. The use of “beer girls” to maximize sales.

Heineken – a multinational company with 165 breweries in more than 70 countries.

«In most African countries, Heineken has unlimited possibilities for marketing as restrictions on sale and marketing of beer are largely non-existent.»

These are some of the stories that are told by the Dutch investigating journalist Olivier van Beemen in his new book “Heineken in Africa”. This is a new and updated version in English of van Beemen’s first book about Heineken that was originally published in Dutch. No wonder that the book created political havoc in The Netherlands with its well-documented criticism of Heineken’s unethical business practices in Africa.

“Heineken in Africa” is the result of six years of investigations that van Beemen has done in Africa, review of a large number of documents and through interviews of 400 persons in around the Heineken company. Van Beemens work has resulted in him being nominated for de Tegel, one of the most prestigious awards in Dutch journalism.

Exploitation of weak political systems

The nomination for the award refers to three pieces of documentary stories taken from «Heineken in Africa”: A big fraud case from Nigeria, where a Dutch CEO could have ended up in a Nigerian prison for seven years if Heineken hadn’t settled the case for a few million dollars; Heineken’s alleged complicity during the genocide in Rwanda;  and widespread sexual abuse of promotion women (beer girls).

The new book about Heineken gives numerous examples of how a multinational company can operate in Africa when political systems are weak and when companies are willing to use methods that would not be used nor accepted in Western settings. This also explains why the subtitle of the book is “A multinational unleashed”.

Two different stories

Van Beemen tells two different stories of Heineken’s operations in Africa. On the one hand, a description of how a multinational brewery can operate in conflict with national legalislation, its own codes of conduct and ethical business practices. On the other hand, how Heineken has been successful in imposing its own narrative of a company that helps Africa and Africans in spite of numerous obstacles and inconveniences.

The Dutch journalist claims in the book that the company fails to mention that Africa with all its weaknesses, offers opportunities that outweigh the inconveniences. In most African countries, Heineken has unlimited possibilities for marketing as restrictions on sale and marketing of beer are largely non-existent.

Association with positive images

Reference is made to the average low level of education which means that marketing can more easily influence customers. Heineken has succeeded in associating its beer with positive characteristics, such as success, status, health, masculinity and physical power, despite its marketing code prohibiting such links.

Moreover, it’s generally easier in Africa than elsewhere to keep new competitors off the market, resulting in highly profitable mono- or duopolies in most countries. Africans often pay more for their beers than Europeans, not only relatively but in absolute prices. Thus, Heineken earns almost 50 percent more on a beer in Africa than the global average.

Van Beemen claims that the scope of «Heineken in Africa» goes beyond revelation and scandals. The book aims at giving new insights and analyses about conducting business in Africa and the role of multinational companies in developing countries more in general.

In more than 70 countries

Heineken is one of the larger multinational companies with its 165 breweries in more than 70 countries. Olivier van Beemen first discovered the scope of Heineken’s activities when he was in Tunisia in 2011 to report from the Jasmine revolution there. He saw how Heineken over many years had kept close ties to President Ben Ali and his kleptocratic family that had ruled Tunisia for almost 25 years. The following year van Beemen started his six years of researching Heineken in Africa.

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