The Sydney Morning Herald recently carried a glossy supplement, called the Employer of Choice, which featured a full-colour, one-page British American Tobacco Australia (BATA) promotion extolling its enlightened corporate culture, and the many advantages of working there.

In “Building Amazing Talent”, the company is described as a “rewarding” place to work, and one that delivers on commitments to employees of support and development, and a positive work-life balance. BATA is said to make good on broader promises of a “positive community and environmental impact”.

Apart from a passing reference to “operating in a sometimes challenging industry” there is no mention of the fact that BATA brands will kill half of their best customers, nor is there any allusion to the range of cancers or myriad other illnesses associated with smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke.

BATA employees, on the other hand, can expect to benefit from “onsite well-being” and “health and lifestyle memberships” as part of their employment package. Unfortunately, this focus on health is not extended to BATA’s customers.

Tobacco corporations operating in Australia’s “dark market” will, of course, exploit any opportunity to communicate with consumers, and this feature is a particularly explicit example of such determination.

It also raises questions about media ethics and whether publications such as the SMH should be so ready to collude with promotion of such a questionable industry. Did no one in the SMH advertising department query the wisdom of promoting this particular industry?

Including BATA in this supplement certainly wouldn’t have generated much reader confidence in the integrity of the publication or in the claims being made by other employers featured.

I wrote to the Herald Letters page on Monday, 11 August, questioning the ethics of carrying the BATA page, which prominently displays the parent company’s familiar logo in a supplement clearly labelled as an “Advertising Feature”. I have had no response.

Company officials and, presumably, Herald editors will undoubtedly argue that as the promotion describes the virtues of working for BATA and not its products, it is not in contravention of existing legislation. Not mentioning cigarettes or, for that matter, any aspect of the tobacco industry is, of course, very much in the company’s best recruiting interests.

Peter Fray

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