Health: fit for business

August 10, 2001

Companies join fight against AIDS.

Coca-Cola announced on June 20 that it is teaming up with the UN to support AIDS education, prevention and treatment across Africa. The Coca-Cola system is the biggest private sector employer on the continent, including the company, its bottlers and distributors. Now the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation is spearheading the move, which has three elements:

• infrastructure – using the Coke system to support local projects and distribute education materials;

• marketing – offering its communication expertise for public awareness and prevention campaigns across the continent;

• human resources – with local site AIDS committees and Coke workforce awareness programmes.

The partnership preceded a call by UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, on June 26 for the private sector to step up its efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. A special ‘citizens’ fund’ is seeking contributions from individuals and corporations, alongside efforts to raise up to $10 billion from governments. Winterthur Insurance – part of Credit Suisse group – has already announced a $1 million donation. Contact Robert Lindsay, Coca-Cola Africa, on 01344 887 603 ( or see

Publishing help for world health.

UK-based Blackwell Publishers is one of six global publishers to have struck a deal with the World Health Organisation to make the top biomedical research journals available to medical schools and bona fide research institutions in the developing world. As part of the three-year arrangement, brokered on July 9, the publishers are agreeing to offer almost 1,000 of the world’s leading scientific and medical publications – some of which cost up to £1,000 a year – either for free or at significantly reduced rates via the Internet. Contact Gregory Hartl, WHO, on 00 41 22 791 4458 (

Supermarkets compete over healthy eating.

Sainsbury’s is launching a two-pronged campaign to communicate to children the health benefits of eating fresh fruit and vegetables – starting with school visits to its stores, dubbed Fruitastic Tours, in September. The supermarket also announced on July 17 that it is extending its Free Fruit in Schools initiative to include forty schools in the Birmingham and London areas. Following successful pilots in Wales and Glasgow, the scheme offers schools a free supply of quality fruit for one week each term.

Meanwhile, Tesco is joining with the Imperial Cancer Research Fund to launch its biggest ever cause-related marketing drive, announced on June 20, with the slogan Take 5 a day. The aim is to highlight the link between a good diet and cancer prevention, encouraging people to eat at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables per day. Contact Sue Mercer, Sainsbury’s, on 020 695 7390 (

Tetley launches Healthier Folk campaign.

Tetley, the tea manufacturer, is joining up with national charity, the British Heart Foundation, to help promote healthy living, whilst raising at least £200,000 for the charity. Tetley will donate 40 pence for every promotional pack of 240 tea bags sold in July and August to BHF, who will in turn use the money to fund research and education of heart health and to finance patient care. Tetley is also using the packaging of its product to advertise ‘healthy lifestyle tips’, with advice on the types of diet and exercise necessary to keep fit. Contact Tetley on 020 8338 4000 (

Get off the couch!

BUPA is launching a new health and fitness site ( to inspire the nation’s youth to get exercising. The fun site has a serious intent – to tackle obesity, which affects one million children under the age of 16, and other related health problems. Contact Catherine Harris, BUPA, on 020 7656 2290 (

news in brief

• The food industry’s labelling policies are failing to give sufficiently accurate information to consumers, according to a report by the Food Advisory Committee, released on July 25. The Food Standards Agency will now consider rules about the use of words such as ‘fresh’, ‘pure’ and ‘natural’. Contact FAC on 020 7276 8591 (

• McDonald’s USA has announced that updated nutritional information concerning ‘natural flavours’ will be posted on its web site from August, with printed information and pamphlets in restaurants. Contact McDonald’s on 00 1 630 623 3000 (

• Pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, is among companies criticised for putting patents before patients in developing countries, by Oxfam. Formula for Fairness: patient rights before patent rights was published on July 19. In June, Pfizer said it would distribute its antifungal medicine, Diflucan, free of charge to HIV/AIDS patients in 50 least-developed countries. Contact Arup Biswas, Oxfam, on 01865 312498 (

•The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a grant of £1.2 million to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine to tackle elephantiasis, one of the biggest grants ever awarded for this type of work. Contact 00 1 206 709 3100 (


For a long time, corporate social responsibility managers in the UK have not seen health as an issue for them – surely that’s up to the government and the much-vaunted National Health Service. Time to think again, for at least five reasons.

First, many companies now operate globally, and outside western Europe, government does not cover healthcare costs. Sick employees cost the company dear. When they die on the current African scale, it’s both a humanitarian and financial catastrophe.

Second, access to the drugs and facilities routinely available in the West are becoming the flash-point in the current battle over global capitalism – charges of profiting from poor people are particularly emotive.

Third, and closer to home, some companies’ products lead directly to health problems when consumed to excess – fast food, alcohol and others. An obvious case for action. Good to see the supermarkets accepting a proactive role in informing consumer choice.

Fourth, ‘invisible’ illnesses like mental health are often directly caused by stress, long hours and other consequences of working practices now routine among many employers. They have a responsibility – that last round of job cuts, announced to boost the flagging share price, will have hidden human costs.

Fifth, as the private sector becomes more involved in the health service, as the prime minister controversially insists it must, questions of its social responsibility must arise. Not just the obvious firms like BUPA. What about construction companies profiting from PFI deals, or the banks financing them, or the accounting and IT firms running outsourced back-office services? No one ever said that crossing traditional sector boundaries would be easy! Health is here to stay as a CSR issue.