Assessing the health impacts of transnational corporations: a case study of Carlton and United Breweries in Australia

Julia Anaf, Fran Baum, Matt Fisher, Fiona Haigh, Emma Miller, Hailay Gesesew, Nicholas Freudenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: The practices of transnational corporations (TNCs) affect population health through unhealthy products, shaping social determinants of health, or influencing the regulatory structures governing their activities. There has been limited research on community exposures to TNC policies and practices. The aim of this paper was to adapt existing Health Impact Assessment methods that were previously used for both a fast food and an extractives industry corporation in order to assess Carlton and United Breweries (CUB) operations within Australia. CUB is an Australian alcohol company owned by a large transnational corporation Asahi Group Holdings. Data identifying potential impacts were sourced through document analysis, including corporate literature; media analysis, and 12 semi-structured interviews. The data were mapped against a corporate health impact assessment framework which included CUB’s political and business practices; products and marketing; workforce, social, environmental and economic conditions; and consumers’ adverse health impacts. We also conducted an ecological study for estimating alcohol attributable fractions and burdens of death due to congestive heart disease, diabetes mellitus, stroke, breast cancer, bowel cancer and injury in Australia. Beer attributable fractions and deaths and CUB’s share were also estimated. Results: We found both positive and adverse findings of the corporation’s operations across all domains. CUB engage in a range of business practices which benefit the community, including sustainability goals and corporate philanthropy, but also negative aspects including from taxation arrangements, marketing practices, and political donations and lobbying which are enabled by a neoliberal regulatory environment. We found adverse health impacts including from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and violence and aggression which disproportionately affect Indigenous and other disadvantaged populations. Conclusion: Our research indicates that studying a TNC in a rapidly changing global financialised capitalist economy in a world which is increasingly being managed by TNCs poses methodological and conceptual challenges. It highlights the need and opportunity for future research. The different methods revealed sufficient information to recognise that strong regulatory frameworks are needed to help to avoid or to mediate negative health impacts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number80
JournalGlobalization and Health
Volume18
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

Keywords

  • Alcohol industry
  • Globalization
  • Health equity
  • Transnational corporations

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