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Last week I was alerted by the City Hindu Network (CHN) about a company that was using an image of Lord Ganesh on their product. It turns out that the company concerned was Imperial Tobacco and the product was their ‘Rizla’ paper. My first thoughts were, surely not. How can such a huge corporate giant with so many advisors actually think that it would be perfectly acceptable for them to use the image of Lord Ganesh on their tobacco paper? For me it was a case of how can a company use any religious imagery to sell a ‘tobacco’ linked product? Even a lay person would be able to tell you that the two are totally incompatible. Unfortunately once I started my investigations it became apparent that there was substance to the allegations.
I asked Imperial Tobacco immediately and on twitter their initial response was, ‘We can assure you we don’t print images of Ganesh on our Rizla packs – this sounds like counterfeit product’. A few hours later this was changed to read, ‘earlier Rizla Tweet we’re now aware a small number of these were made over a year ago. No more are being made; apologies for any offence’.
So we had confirmation directly from the company that the allegations were in fact correct. I took it upon myself to contact the company directly by writing to their CEO Alison Cooper. I did not get a response from Alison, but Simon Evans the Group Press Officer (Imperial Tobacco Group PLC) contacted me and we have had a number of email exchanges as well as telephone conversations. Simon has confirmed the following to me now:
a. A limited number of these booklets were manufactured over a year ago for a small number of markets, not including the UK.
b. This was authorised by a former brand manager who is no longer with the company and as far as we are able to ascertain our usual approval processes were not followed.
c. No further manufacture of these booklets will take place. Our investigations continue and we will be working with wholesalers to remove booklets from the supply chain.
d. We apologise for any offence caused and will be making a donation to an appropriate international organisation.
Imperial Tobacco obviously has some quality assurance issues that they will no doubt investigate further and change for the better I hope. The message for the Hindu community is quite simple, far too often companies around the world see Hindu deities as a huge pull in helping to sell their products. There seems to be a disconnect with the huge disrespect that is shown by such actions, the distress to the Hindu community and the undermining of a faith that is followed by some one billion people around the world. In my view companies need to be sufficiently enlightened to know that should they pursue such avenues of cheap publicity for a quick buck – that there are severe ramifications that may well follow.
India is now becoming a global giant that has huge scope for the future. Can you imagine what could happen if the Government of India took offence with any company that showed such disregard to a faith community? They can literally put in place a series of measures that would make the operation of any such company in India, untenable. I don’t know who advises these large corporate entities, but one would have thought that they would have highly gifted individuals who would be able to say – stop, don’t do it – it’s wrong.
Leading Hindu organisations, both here in the UK as well as internationally could also offer companies advice on all such issues in a consulting role. Maybe this is an avenue worth exploring both for the community as well as the companies involved.
As far as Imperial Tobacco is concerned, I look forward to their follow up communication in which I trust they will confirm a decent size donation to a worthy humanitarian cause. In my view it would also have been strategic had their CEO, Alison Cooper, taken the time to write a letter of apology to the whole community. That personal touch can so often work wonders; alas it seems we shall have to make do with a corporate apology which I have to say was made immediately.
On 21 February 2014 – I am pleased to announce that Imperial Tobacco have just confirmed that they will be making a donation of £20 000 to a worthy cause in line with their previous statement. The donation will be allocated to Sewa International – a humanitarian charitable organisation that is doing some tremendous work (web: http://www.sewauk.org/).