Heineken claims the business helps Africa. Is that too good to be true?

The initial time Heineken vacant me was in Tunisia, in early 2011, when we was covering a Jasmine array and a tumble of President Ben Ali for a Dutch business newspaper. During my reporting, we detected that Heineken confirmed tighten ties with a kleptocratic family house that had ruled Tunisia for roughly 25 years. It was not customarily a attribute itself that had me dumbfounded – it was a fact that Heineken was brewing splash there during all. we knew a organisation was doing business all over a world, and we had some deceptive idea that it would have breweries outward a Netherlands, yet we had never realised a scale: 165 breweries in some-more than 70 countries, including this north African autocracy.

The following year, we motionless to start work on a book about Heineken’s operations in Africa. When we told people in a Netherlands about my plan, we was mostly regaled with certain stories. A lady who had finished an internship during Heineken told me she chose to request to a organisation given of a corporate amicable responsibility, and she waxed musical about “the multiple of faith and no-nonsense business”. we went by Dutch news repository and found eager stories about a company’s work in Africa, with headlines like “Heineken is Helping”.

In total, we spent 6 years researching Heineken in Africa. On my initial few stating trips, we was formally impressed. As a Dutchman, we fundamentally feel a certain honour when we are distant divided from home and notice how renouned “our” brands are. The company, that has operated in Africa given a 1930s, likes to benefaction itself as a energetic craving that has achieved conspicuous success on a commercially severe continent, where many countries onslaught with bad infrastructure, low preparation levels, crime and domestic instability.

But we started carrying misgivings early on. In a organisation archives, we detected that in a early 1960s Heineken was an fervent believer of a “white bloc” of southern African countries, including Rhodesia, South Africa and a dual Portuguese colonies Angola and Mozambique. we schooled that in South Africa a comparison manager urged his colleagues not to act “in antithesis to a letter/spirit of apartheid”, and we also review about a huge amounts of income that Heineken channelled from Africa into a auxiliary in Switzerland, holding divided an critical source of mercantile income from a governments of newly shaped eccentric states.

While travelling around a continent, we listened about giveaway crates of splash given to elites in Burundi, we saw tiny schools in Nigeria with splash logos embellished on a walls, and we witnessed a wretchedness of a celebration dens in a South African municipality of Soweto. In a Democratic Republic of a Congo (DRC), we saw a worryingly cosy attribute between a brewery’s PR dialect and inner journalists. These issues incited out not to be incidental, yet shaped partial of a pattern.

In time, we began to realize that Heineken’s references to a problems of handling in Africa, however real, form partial of a comment in that a company’s possess achievements are lengthened and shortcoming for a indiscretion lies elsewhere. The summary is that it is indeed zero brief of a spectacle that this splash brewer can work underneath such formidable resources and, along a way, does so many good things for a people and planet.

What is absent from a comment is that some of a apparent problems Heineken faces in Africa can also be surprisingly useful. Consider, for example, diseased governments that destroy to contend roads and healthcare, good a organisation to find dear solutions – clearly an barrier for business, one would think. But during a same time, anarchy in many countries enables Heineken to sell and publicize a drinks yet a con of regulation. Levels of preparation are mostly low, that can be a interruption when looking for competent crew – yet also a blessing in costume when there is information to be widespread about a ostensible “positive” properties of beer.

In 2013, Heineken CEO Jean-François outpost Boxmeer described Africa as “the ubiquitous business world’s best kept secret”. Heineken faces so tiny foe that in some African countries one tiny bottle of splash is no cheaper – or infrequently even some-more costly – than in Europe, while prolongation costs are lower. According to Heineken’s many new accessible total (2014), splash in Africa is roughly 50% some-more essential than anywhere else. Some markets, such as Nigeria, are among a many remunerative in a world.

“Don’t spin this into a electioneer opposite Heineken. You’re too immature for that,” Van Boxmeer warned me during a initial meeting. we can encourage him. This is not an censure of Heineken specifically, yet a investigate of a ways one multinational in Africa operates. As distant as we have been means to determine, a Dutch splash brewer’s poise resembles that of a competitors and other western companies in many respects. My aim is to yield an accurate picture of a organisation that likes to blow a possess wail per a ostensible African success story – a story for that it has been expensively praised, both inside a Netherlands and on a ubiquitous stage, during a UN ubiquitous assembly.


In a formula of conduct, Heineken describes a workers as “our biggest assets”. So what is operative for Heineken in Africa unequivocally like? Not bad, during initial sight. Across a continent, we have met former employees who demeanour behind with honour on their careers – no matter either they were carrying crates or regulating a brewery. Most of Heineken’s staff members in Africa are on comparatively low salaries by inner standards, yet Heineken compensates for this by being an courteous and enlivening employer.

“As a elementary operator, we don’t acquire much,” says a former Rwandan manager whose initial pursuit was as a upkeep engineer. “But supervisors and aloft staff are good paid, and when we started out there were many some-more managerial roles available, compared to other companies. If we do your work well, we get recognized and promoted.” For successful employees, there are also status-enhancing perks such as organisation cars or inscription devices. Employees also conclude a far-reaching operation of training courses on offer.

For many of Heineken’s staff in Africa, there is no grant scheme, yet during a finish of their careers they are mostly entitled to a good separation package. Some use a income to start their possess company. we found former employees who had started a fish farm, a consultancy business and a bakery. Others had stayed true to their aged line of work and non-stop a bar.



A Heineken ad in an middle city area of Johannesburg in South Africa. Photograph: Alamy

One organisation of employees gets fussed over some-more than most: expats. Very often, a organisation maintains rent-free oppulance villas on or nearby inner Heineken premises, for ostracise staff. The array of African managers has risen opposite a continent as a whole, yet in many countries white staff sojourn during a tip of a pecking order. (At a time of writing, 9 out of 13 African subsidiaries are headed by Europeans, and 4 by Africans.) According to Heineken’s 2014 annual report, entry-level employees during Nigerian Breweries got a tiny over $2,000 per year (£1,500), while a organisation spent a same volume each day on a Dutch executive in Nigeria – not counting a bonuses.

Workplace reserve is a critical regard for Heineken employees. According to a company’s possess tellurian statistics, 150 people – crew or subcontractors – died in work-related incidents between 2005 and 2016. People have depressed from scaffolding, been dejected underneath fences, killed in explosions and burnt alive. Others have acquired permanent disabilities as a outcome of amputations, browns and other incidents. According to a 2017 matter from Heineken, a African operations comment for 26% of “on-site incidents and accidents (minor+serious+fatal)”.

In a operations opposite Africa, Heineken uses subcontractors and zero-hour workers increasingly often. In many countries, a income of a day jack-of-all-trades or a proxy workman does not volume to a “decent customary of living” that a organisation says is a goal. A cleaner in DRC can't tarry on a monthly income of $40-50, and even a confidence safeguard who creates 3 times as many will find it tough to make ends meet. Moreover, outmost workers have no rights to medical or other services. In theory, it is a agencies that sinecure them that contingency yield these, yet disaster to do so does not tend to stop Heineken from operative with them.

In Lubumbashi, a city in DRC, we met a proxy workman who told me he was not authorised to take a break. “When a directors leave for lunch, a staff customarily keep working,” he said. “We were ostensible to get a canteen, yet a bill for that has been cut. They don’t have a whip like they used to in colonial times, yet a vigour of work is too many and bears no propinquity to a salaries.”

He pronounced he laughs out shrill during a aphorism of Fondation Bralima, Heineken’s inner charity: “Committed to a wellbeing of a Congolese.” His conclusion: “Let them start with a wellbeing of their possess workers.”


If there is one organisation to whom a temp’s final difference should apply, it is a “beer graduation girls”, immature women who are hired to assistance boost sales in bars. In 2000, a organisation of assist organisations in Cambodia sounded a alarm about a risks graduation women faced in doing their job. They spoke of graduation women as being same to “indirect sex workers” who warranted unequivocally tiny and were mostly harassed, pressured into carrying sex with business and ran a risk of constrictive HIV.

Heineken set adult an inner operative organisation to tackle a problem in Asia. “It was formidable given these girls were not directly employed by us and turnover was large,” recalls former HR manager Hans Wesseling.

Katinka outpost Cranenburgh, a former Heineken executive, who took shortcoming for a emanate within HR, says it wasn’t until an critical shareholder lodged a censure that any poignant movement was taken. “Internally, we appealed to probity and a rights of women, yet we saw that an indignant minute from an financier yielded improved results,” she says. Heineken released a array of discipline entitled Promotion Girls Policy: Selling Beer Safely. Henceforth, a immature women would accept training, and a organisation betrothed to try to safeguard improved operative conditions.

As early as 2003, according to inner documents, Heineken became wakeful that identical problems were occurring in Africa. A orator during a time commented in a Dutch daily: “It’s zero special. It’s like a girls we used to see walking on a streets in a Netherlands, giving divided giveaway magazines for a private broadcaster and wearing a dress with a logo.”

Wesseling, who worked during Heineken from 1991 until 2005, says: “We had graduation girls in Africa. We knew this, in annoy of inner denials. It was additional cryptic given we had been regulating a unequivocally successful Aids process in Africa.” From 2001, HIV-positive Heineken workers in Africa and their evident families had been offering giveaway therapy for life, that would continue after retirement or redundancy. Therapy always came with counselling, giveaway condoms and HIV tests – and Heineken’s diagnosis of a workers won regard and indebtedness opposite a world, including among US politicians. “It gave a people in a US a good story,” pronounced Wesseling. “So nobody was going to kill that picture with African graduation girls carrying to sell a splash underneath a direst of circumstances. Better to support that as a inner custom: ‘That’s how they do things over there.’”

In 2007, an inner exploration showed that Heineken was regulating about 15,000 graduation women globally, mostly in non-western countries. No fewer than 70 markets were deliberate unsure for a graduation women given a work concerned or could lead to passionate abuse, low compensate or being forced to wear provocative uniforms. Sixteen of those markets were in Africa: resources were slightest enlightened there, and Heineken was pronounced to use roughly 2,000 graduation women. According to inner documentation, customarily one African marketplace was problem-free.

The chairman who Heineken chose to control this investigate was a 21-year-old intern, lending weight to a idea that a brewer did not cruise this a theme of good importance. “I was a tiny taken aback that they asked me for such a ethereal and critical subject,” says a former intern, Diego Centurion.

Further investigate in DRC, a nation where a many abuse was reported, suggested that neglected advances came not customarily from business yet also from Heineken staff. “The huge doubt of gripping a pursuit total with a deficiency of worker rights of authorised standing creates PW [promotion women] exposed for injustice from several stakeholders,” a inner news notes. Often, a women, who warranted unequivocally little, had to nap with managers if they wanted to keep their job. But if they indispensable to see a gynaecologist or get an abortion, that was mostly bootleg and dangerous, they had to arrange all themselves, and compensate for it. They also had to splash 5 to 10 vast bottles of splash each operative day, in sequence to convince business to devour more.

What did Bralima, a Congolese auxiliary of Heineken, get out of this in terms of additional sales? “I don’t cruise they were that valuable,” says a former executive in DRC. “It was a mess. When this thing was going on in Cambodia, we also got rules, yet they did not change a good deal. For a while, government hired taxis to get a girls home during night, yet eventually they motionless this was too expensive. Those girls were removing reduction than a smallest wage, and they were used by Bralima personnel. Very mostly these were girls with problems, unequivocally vulnerable. Given that we paid them so unequivocally little, they were probably forced to go home with a man.”

Stefaan outpost der Borght, Heineken’s former executive for tellurian health affairs, says that during one indicate Heineken attempted graduation boys: “We wanted to take divided a organisation with sex, yet it didn’t work. Another problem was that we used subcontractors, for reasons of flexibility. Sometimes we indispensable a lot of girls, for parties, and during other times it was quiet. So we were burdening these subcontractors with a effort and a amicable obligations, while Heineken was hold accountable.”


Promotion women in DRC and Nigeria continue to work underneath a many awful conditions. “Every dusk we am overwhelmed opposite my will. It doesn’t matter either we work in an costly cafeteria or a renouned bar,” says Peace, a graduation lady in Lagos. Her co-worker Sylvia adds: “We learn how to hoop this. During a instruction, they tell us there will be irritating men. But we have to endure them given we are perplexing to boost sales and make a code stronger.”

“We learn that we should not respond aggressively or contend ‘stop’. By walking away, we let them know that it’s not appreciated,” says Peace.

But what if someone continues? Is there someone there, from a group contracting a women, someone they can speak to? “Yes there is, sometimes, yet mostly not,” she continues. “It is a open space, so there will be no rapes. That can customarily occur when a girls go with a customers. But that is a choice. Our employer thinks: if we don’t like being fondled, we contingency demeanour for other work. we don’t even notice it any more. we expect it.”

The women’s incomes differ from one group to another, and on average, during a time of this research, they acquire about $8 per day. In an costly city like Lagos, this is not much, yet it tallies with other forms of inexperienced work.

A lot of women take a risk of sleeping with a customers. Peace and Sylvia cruise that during slightest half of their colleagues are doing this. “These girls can’t support themselves and they are desperate. This is a approach they acquire many some-more money,” pronounced Peace. And what do a employers think? Are they perplexing to forestall it?

“No, unequivocally not,” says Sylvia. “They like it when we act like this given it helps sales.”

Peace agrees: “They keep girls like that given they move many customers.”

In Lagos alone, hundreds or presumably thousands of graduation women are used to sell Heineken brands. The conditions in Nigeria is not exceptional. According to a well-connected source, there are during slightest 100 women active in Kinshasa, captial of DRC, and an opposite array in other Congolese cities.



Heineken’s Nigerian placement centre. Photograph: Maarten Udema/Heineken

“Of march these girls are harassed, they are filles à surveillance faire (girls we can do anything with). It’s partial of a profession,” says one Kinshasa salesman who used to work with a women. He calls them “whores” before continuing: “Sometimes Bralima uses genuine prostitutes given they know how to charm a customer, and that’s advantageous. But others are stricter and pull a line a patron contingency not cross. They have a formidable time given if we work in a bar we are deliberate a open girl. The brewery doesn’t caring about them.”

Even for other Heineken staff in Africa, being a lady is not always easy. According to a array of people we spoke to, opposite a continent, desirous women infrequently have to get insinuate with a HR manager – customarily a inner member of staff – to get a pursuit or secure a promotion. Expats during government turn know a rumours, yet frequency cruise it their priority to move a emanate to attention.

Wesseling, a former HR manager, says: “We knew that during a 1990s, things were function in Congo that were over a pale. We had a unequivocally absolute HR manager who confirmed a preference procession that would not be supposed here. Women had to yield passionate services to get a job.” Heineken’s stream CEO, Van Boxmeer, was ubiquitous manager of Bralima from 1993 to 1996. But according to Wesseling, “he did not act when he was ubiquitous manager there”.

Other insiders told stories of expat managers in Africa a handing out jobs to their girlfriends. The Rwandan partner of a tip manager in DRC became a fuel retailer for one of their breweries even yet a prior one was cheaper and some-more reliable, according to those in a know. In Nigeria, an expat executive gave secretarial jobs to dual of his conquests, for that they were wholly unqualified, according to colleagues. And one inhabitant executive allegedly asked for womanlike staff he wanted for himself to initial be sent to a medical dialect in sequence to have an Aids test.


When my book on Heineken was published in a Netherlands final year, a Dutch council upheld a suit pursuit on a stream apportion for growth and unfamiliar trade, Sigrid Kaag, to get tough on abuses within or by Dutch business abroad. The abuse of graduation women had approach consequences for a company. The Global Fund, upheld by Bill Gates, suspended team-work with Heineken given of a scandal, and a Dutch ASN Bank, following a third inquiry, private Heineken from a tolerable investment account and has halted all other financial impasse with a organisation until serve notice.

Heineken revised an progressing stipulation in that it had claimed that a organisation employed customarily 200 graduation women in dual countries in Africa. An inner exploration now suggested an estimated 4,000 women in 13 countries. The organisation announced a array of measures: transparent and evident rules, training, dress codes, no ethanol on a pursuit and ride home after work. These are, roughly word-for-word, a same measures that were put in a process paper in 2004, that remained an dull promise.

But this time, Heineken said, things unequivocally would be different. So, in Mar 2018, a organisation done a organisation pledge that reassured some politicians and stakeholders. “If we can’t pledge good operative conditions for a promoters in certain markets by a finish of June, we’ll stop contracting them there.”

In a summer of 2018, we went to Kenya to see for myself either Heineken had kept a word this time. Was we even surprised? we met with 6 graduation women, who all told me a same stories: zero had changed. They still had to accept passionate nuisance as partial of a job, their uniforms were so brief it done them feel like prostitutes, and some of them were forced to nap with their bosses. In an talk with a Dutch journal a few months later, Van Boxmeer called my stating on a graduation women “exaggerated”, yet naming why. “We can't be obliged if a patron treats a upholder inappropriately,” he said. “We can’t control everything.”

Freddy Heineken, a company’s mythological CEO, who died in 2002, used to say: “People don’t splash beer. They splash marketing.” He accepted that offered splash successfully is a matter of psychology. It’s about picture and an emotion. For many years, Heineken’s picture has remained mostly comfortable by a existence of a operations in Africa. “I can tell we from a bottom of my heart that here during Heineken we wish to urge things and wish to minister definitely to a societies where we operate,” one member of staff during Heineken’s conduct bureau in Amsterdam told me. “We try to hang to all a rules, however formidable that might be. we am harm that this is trivialised with remarks that advise it is all customarily commerce and offered to us. It is unequivocally formidable to be an island of soundness in a sea of misery, yet please, do not doubt a sincerity.”

Heineken as an “island of perfection”. And Africa, where Heineken has done billions in a past century? “A sea of misery.” But, of course, we should not doubt Heineken’s sincerity.

Translated by Bram Posthumus. Adapted from Heineken in Africa: A Multinational Unleashed by Olivier outpost Beemen, published by Hurst on 14 Feb and accessible during guardianbookshop.com

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