An investigation by Heineken itself shows that promotional girls are indeed being harassed. Their deployment has been put on hold in Mozambique.
Olivier van Beemen, 5 July 2018
Promotional girls for Heineken in Africa are being intimidated on a large scale during their work, and they endure poor working conditions. This has become apparent from an investigation commissioned by Heineken and conducted by the agency Partner Africa, following news reports in NRC and the publication of the book Bier voor Afrika [Beer for Africa, which will be translated in English].
Illustration by Roland Blokhuizen
It derives from the investigation that women are victims of sexual, physical or verbal intimidation in eight of the thirteen African countries where Heineken deploys promotional girls. These problems are said not to occur in the other five countries, but in four them the interviews with the promotional girls took place at the office of their employer, which might have influenced their answers.
The investigators have spoken to a total of 181 women, 57 of whom indicated they are faced with intimidation. Thirteen women claim to be victims of sexual transgression. According to the investigation, this occurs exclusively in Mozambique. NRC previously spoke with promotional women in Nigeria and with sellers in Congo who said that groping is usual when they are at work.
According to its own estimates, Heineken uses 20,000 beer promoters worldwide, 4,000 of whom are deployed in Africa. The company refuses to disclose the full investigation “because it contains competition-sensitive information”.
By their own account, the investigators did not come across women who are being pressured into sleeping with their managers in order to secure their job – the beer brewer discovered this practice in Congo in 2007 in an internal investigation. The investigation also rules out prostitution during work.
Problems that do come to light include the excessively short skirts women are forced to wear in some countries, the absence of a contract and payslips, slow payment, a lack of clarity about the age of the women and unpaid overtime.
Moreover, in Egypt, Heineken worked with an agency that seized the passports of female employees. These women are restricted in their freedom of movement outside working hours. This phenomenon is known as bonded labour and is considered to be a modern form of slavery. Heineken says the contract with this agency has since been terminated.
The brewer has drafted new policies to tackle the malpractices. It has drawn up seven conditions which barely differ from previous guidelines that came about in 2004, when the poor working conditions of promotional girls in Southeast Asia gave rise to concerns.
Heineken guarantees there will be no malpractices from now on.
“If we are not convinced our conditions can be met in a certain market or through a sales channel, we will terminate the deployment of beer promotors there with immediate effect.” According to Heineken, this has happened in Mozambique, where the deployment of promotional girls has been suspended.
The malpractices at Heineken were grounds for the ASN Bank to expel the beer brewer from the sustainable investment fund. In addition, The Global Fund – one of the largest donor organisations in the world, which fights aids, tuberculosis and malaria with financial support from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – has suspended its partnership with Heineken.