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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

For Anheuser-Busch, One Good Deed is About it

Our frenemies at Anheuser-Busch are in the news. Seems they delayed beer production this week so they could can water for hurricane victims in Houston. Good PR. Too bad that's not the only coverage they're getting. Because, like always, they've been up to no good.

Earlier this month, Henri Reuchlin, Chairman of the European Beer Consumers Union, which represents consumer groups in Europe and monitors the activities of big beer, sent a letter to ABI CEO Carlos Brito requesting assurances regarding the beer giant's global intentions.

Reuchlin's letter rakes ABI over the coals nicely, describing a litany of abuses and underhanded practices. "All of these examples suggest the policies currently being adopted by your company tend mostly to work to the disadvantage of consumers, or at best to pay the consumer little regard," he concludes.

Not exactly news, eh? If you follow along here, you probably know about Anheuser-Busch's illegal and anti-competitive practices in this country. They're getting pinched by regulators on a regular basis, forcing them to come up with creative defenses. And pay fines.

A little over a year ago, the good folks at AB were caught violating Washington state pay-to-play rules at a couple of concert venues in Seattle. What they did was pay exclusive promotional fees in order to secure placement for their own products, while blocking competitors.

The result was a relative slap on the wrist in the form of a $150,000 fine. A spokesperson for the company subsequently said they didn't agree with the allegations and were working with the State Liquor Control Board to figure it all out. Right.

A few months later, in September, the US Securities and Exchange Commission hit AB with a $6 million fine for bribery. The SEC found the company made illegal payments to officials in India to boost sales and production. The company also tampered with a whistleblowing employee, entering into an agreement prohibiting the person from communicating with the SEC about violations.

In fact, despite employee complaints and SEC directives, Anheuser-Busch failed to establish internal controls to detect and prevent improper payments. Instead, transactions involving promoters simply weren't monitored or recorded properly. Hmmm. Why do you suppose they would do that?

There's more. This past March, AB reached a $400,000 settlement with regulators in California after an investigation revealed AB-owned wholesalers had been illegally providing refrigerators, television sets and draft systems to Southern California retailers. They knew the law and simply failed to abide by it. Business as usual.

More recently, regulators in Massachusetts charged Anheuser-Busch with illegally giving away nearly $1 million worth of equipment in the form of branded refrigerators, draft towers and coolers to hundreds of retailers in 2014 and 2015. The charges came as a result of a 14-month investigation into pay-to-play practices in the state.

The best part of this story is AB isn't even denying the charges, It says it did provide the equipment to retailers and believes it did so legally. Say what? Yep. The company is challenging the state's definition of illegal gifts.

It turns out Massachusetts bans brewers and wholesalers from providing retailers with anything of “substantial value” as a means of gaining influence. The problem is, “substantial value” isn’t defined, leaving open a door through which AB is driving a semi. Imagine the hubris.

Anheuser-Busch contends it had no idea that the coolers and other merchandise exceeded the "substantial value" threshold. Keep in mind we're talking about items valued at from hundreds to several thousand dollars each. Who knew these things were of "substantial value?"

These are the people we're dealing with. They want to dominate the industry and aren't especially concerned with how they do it. If there's a law blocking their objective, they're apt to work around it and worry about the consequences later. It's who they are.

And if you're buying any of their products, you're helping finance this kind of behavior. There's a simple solution: Don't buy any of their shit. End of story.

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