The first time Heineken amazed me used to be in Tunisia, in early 2011, when I used to be overlaying the Jasmine revolution and the autumn of President Ben Ali for a Dutch industry newspaper. Right through my reporting, I found out that Heineken maintained shut ties with the kleptocratic circle of relatives extended family that had dominated Tunisia for nearly 25 years. It used to be now not simply the connection itself that had me surprised – it used to be the truth that Heineken used to be brewing beer there in any respect. I knew the corporate used to be doing industry in every single place the arena, and I had some obscure perception that it might have breweries out of doors the Netherlands, however I had by no means realised the size: 165 breweries in additional than 70 international locations, together with this north African autocracy.

The next yr, I made up our minds to start paintings on a e-book about Heineken’s operations in Africa. Once I informed folks within the Netherlands about my plan, I used to be most commonly regaled with high-quality tales. A girl who had finished an internship at Heineken informed me she selected to use to the corporate as a result of its company social accountability, and he or she waxed lyrical about “the mix of idealism and no-nonsense industry”. I went via Dutch information archives and located enthusiastic tales concerning the corporate’s paintings in Africa, with headlines like “Heineken is Serving to”.

In general, I spent six years researching Heineken in Africa. On my first few reporting journeys, I used to be suitably inspired. As a Dutchman, you inevitably really feel a definite pleasure if you end up a long way clear of house and see how common “our” manufacturers are. The corporate, which has operated in Africa because the 1930s, likes to provide itself as a dynamic undertaking that has completed exceptional good fortune on a commercially difficult continent, the place many nations combat with dangerous infrastructure, low schooling ranges, corruption and political instability.

However I began having misgivings early on. Within the corporate archives, I found out that within the early 1960s Heineken used to be an ardent supporter of a “white bloc” of southern African international locations, together with Rhodesia, South Africa and the 2 Portuguese colonies Angola and Mozambique. I discovered that during South Africa a senior supervisor advised his colleagues to not act “towards the letter/spirit of apartheid”, and I additionally learn concerning the huge quantities of cash that Heineken channelled from Africa right into a subsidiary in Switzerland, casting off crucial supply of fiscal earnings from the governments of newly shaped impartial states.

Whilst travelling across the continent, I heard about loose crates of beer given to elites in Burundi, I noticed little faculties in Nigeria with beer trademarks painted at the partitions, and I witnessed the distress of the consuming dens within the South African township of Soweto. Within the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), I noticed the worryingly comfortable dating between the brewery’s PR division and native newshounds. Those problems grew to become out to not be incidental, however shaped a part of a trend.

In time, I started to understand that Heineken’s references to the difficulties of running in Africa, on the other hand actual, shape a part of a story during which the corporate’s personal achievements are enlarged and accountability for its wrongdoing lies somewhere else. The message is that it’s in truth not anything in need of a miracle that this beer brewer can function underneath such tough instances and, alongside the best way, does such a lot of just right issues for the folk and planet.

What’s absent from the narrative is that one of the crucial obvious difficulties Heineken faces in Africa can be unusually helpful. Imagine, as an example, vulnerable governments that fail to handle roads and healthcare, obliging the corporate to search out expensive answers – obviously a drawback for industry, one would assume. However on the similar time, lawlessness in many nations permits Heineken to promote and put it on the market its beverages with out the trouble of legislation. Ranges of schooling are steadily low, which generally is a hindrance when searching for certified group of workers – but additionally a blessing in hide when there’s knowledge to be unfold concerning the intended “high-quality” homes of beer.

In 2013, Heineken CEO Jean-François van Boxmeer described Africa as “the global industry global’s absolute best stored secret”. Heineken faces so little festival that during some African international locations one small bottle of beer isn’t any inexpensive – or infrequently much more dear – than in Europe, whilst manufacturing prices are decrease. In keeping with Heineken’s most up-to-date to be had figures (2014), beer in Africa is nearly 50% extra successful than anyplace else. Some markets, reminiscent of Nigeria, are a few of the maximum profitable on this planet.

“Don’t flip this right into a campaign in opposition to Heineken. You’re too younger for that,” Van Boxmeer warned me all the way through our first assembly. I will be able to reassure him. This isn’t an indictment of Heineken particularly, however a learn about of the tactics one multinational in Africa operates. So far as I’ve been ready to resolve, the Dutch beer brewer’s behaviour resembles that of its competition and different western firms in lots of respects. My intention is to offer a correct symbol of an organization that loves to blow its personal trumpet relating to its intended African good fortune tale – a tale for which it’s been lavishly praised, each within the Netherlands and at the global level, on the UN basic meeting.


In its code of habits, Heineken describes its staff as “our best belongings”. So what is operating for Heineken in Africa actually like? No longer dangerous, in the beginning sight. Around the continent, I’ve met former staff who glance again with pleasure on their careers – regardless of whether or not they had been sporting crates or working the brewery. Maximum of Heineken’s team of workers contributors in Africa are on moderately low salaries by way of native requirements, however Heineken compensates for this by way of being an attentive and inspiring employer.

“As a easy operator, you don’t earn a lot,” says a former Rwandan supervisor whose first task used to be as a repairs engineer. “However supervisors and better team of workers are effectively paid, and once I began available in the market had been many extra managerial roles to be had, in comparison to different firms. Should you do your paintings effectively, you get recognised and promoted.” For a success staff, there also are status-enhancing perks reminiscent of corporate automobiles or pill gadgets. Workers additionally recognize the wide variety of coaching classes on be offering.

For many of Heineken’s team of workers in Africa, there is not any pension scheme, however on the finish in their careers they’re steadily entitled to a just right severance bundle. Some use the cash to start out their very own corporate. I discovered former staff who had began a fish farm, a consultancy industry and a bakery. Others had stayed trustworthy to their previous line of labor and opened a bar.

A Heineken ad in an inner city area of Johannesburg in South Africa.



A Heineken advert in an internal town house of Johannesburg in South Africa. {Photograph}: Alamy

One team of staff will get fussed over greater than maximum: expats. Very steadily, the corporate maintains rent-free luxurious villas on or close to native Heineken premises, for expatriate team of workers. The choice of African managers has risen around the continent as a complete, however in maximum international locations white team of workers stay on the best of the pecking order. (On the time of writing, 9 out of 13 African subsidiaries are headed by way of Europeans, and 4 by way of Africans.) In keeping with Heineken’s 2014 annual file, entry-level staff at Nigerian Breweries were given just a little over $2,00zero according to yr (£1,500), whilst the corporate spent an identical quantity each day on a Dutch director in Nigeria – now not counting the bonuses.

Place of business protection is a significant fear for Heineken staff. In keeping with the corporate’s personal world statistics, 150 folks – group of workers or subcontractors – died in work-related incidents between 2005 and 2016. Other people have fallen from scaffolding, been overwhelmed underneath fences, killed in explosions and burned alive. Others have received everlasting disabilities because of amputations, burns and different incidents. In keeping with a 2017 observation from Heineken, its African operations account for 26% of “on-site incidents and injuries (minor+severe+deadly)”.

In its operations throughout Africa, Heineken makes use of subcontractors and zero-hour staff an increasing number of steadily. In many nations, the source of revenue of an afternoon labourer or a short lived employee does now not quantity to the “first rate way of life” that the corporate says is its purpose. A cleaner in DRC can not continue to exist on a per month wage of $40-50, or even a safety guard who makes thrice as a lot will in finding it arduous to make ends meet. Additionally, exterior staff haven’t any rights to healthcare or different services and products. In principle, it’s the businesses that rent them that should supply those, however failure to take action does now not have a tendency to forestall Heineken from running with them.

In Lubumbashi, a town in DRC, I met a short lived employee who informed me he used to be now not allowed to take a destroy. “When the administrators go away for lunch, the team of workers simply stay running,” he stated. “We had been intended to get a canteen, however the price range for that has been lower. They don’t have the whip like they used to in colonial occasions, however the drive of labor is an excessive amount of and bears no relation to our salaries.”

He stated he laughs out loud on the slogan of Fondation Bralima, Heineken’s native charity: “Dedicated to the wellbeing of the Congolese.” His conclusion: “Allow them to get started with the wellbeing of their very own staff.”


If there’s one team to whom the temp’s remaining phrases must practice, it’s the “beer promotion women”, younger ladies who’re employed to lend a hand spice up gross sales in bars. In 2000, a gaggle of assist organisations in Cambodia sounded the alarm concerning the dangers promotion ladies confronted in doing their task. They spoke of promotion ladies as being similar to “oblique intercourse staff” who earned little or no and had been steadily stressed, confused into having intercourse with shoppers and ran the danger of contracting HIV.

Heineken arrange an inside running team to take on the issue in Asia. “It used to be tough as a result of those women had been indirectly hired by way of us and turnover used to be massive,” remembers former HR supervisor Hans Wesseling.

Katinka van Cranenburgh, a former Heineken government, who took accountability for the problem inside of HR, says it wasn’t till crucial shareholder lodged a criticism that any important motion used to be taken. “Internally, we appealed to morality and the rights of ladies, however we noticed that an indignant letter from an investor yielded higher effects,” she says. Heineken issued a chain of pointers entitled Promotion Ladies Coverage: Promoting Beer Safely. Henceforth, the younger ladies would obtain coaching, and the corporate promised to check out to verify higher running prerequisites.

As early as 2003, in step with inside paperwork, Heineken turned into conscious that identical issues had been going on in Africa. A spokesman on the time commented in a Dutch day by day: “It’s not anything particular. It’s like the ladies you used to look strolling at the streets within the Netherlands, giving for free loose magazines for a non-public broadcaster and dressed in a get dressed with its emblem.”

Wesseling, who labored at Heineken from 1991 till 2005, says: “We had promotion women in Africa. We knew this, despite inside denials. It used to be additional problematic as a result of we were working an excessively a success Aids coverage in Africa.” From 2001, HIV-positive Heineken staff in Africa and their quick households were introduced loose treatment for lifestyles, which might proceed after retirement or redundancy. Remedy at all times got here with counselling, loose condoms and HIV exams – and Heineken’s remedy of its staff gained reward and admiration the world over, together with amongst US politicians. “It gave our folks in the United States a perfect tale,” stated Wesseling. “So no person used to be going to kill that symbol with African promotion women having to promote our beer underneath the direst of instances. Higher to border that as an area customized: ‘That’s how they do issues over there.’”

In 2007, an inside inquiry confirmed that Heineken used to be the use of about 15,00zero promotion ladies globally, most commonly in non-western international locations. No fewer than 70 markets had been thought to be dangerous for the promotion ladies since the paintings concerned or may result in sexual abuse, low pay or being compelled to put on provocative uniforms. 16 of the ones markets had been in Africa: instances had been least beneficial there, and Heineken used to be stated to make use of virtually 2,00zero promotion ladies. In keeping with inside documentation, just one African marketplace used to be problem-free.

The one that Heineken selected to habits this analysis used to be a 21-year-old intern, lending weight to the perception that the brewer didn’t imagine this a subject matter of serious significance. “I used to be just a little stunned that they requested me for the sort of subtle and necessary matter,” says the previous intern, Diego Centurion.

Additional analysis in DRC, the rustic the place probably the most abuse used to be reported, published that undesirable advances got here now not best from shoppers but additionally from Heineken team of workers. “The large uncertainty of protecting a task blended with the absence of worker rights of prison reputation makes PW [promotion women] prone for misuse from a number of stakeholders,” the interior file notes. Ceaselessly, the ladies, who earned little or no, needed to sleep with managers in the event that they sought after to stay their task. But when they had to see a gynaecologist or get an abortion, which used to be steadily unlawful and threatening, they needed to kind the whole lot themselves, and pay for it. Additionally they needed to drink 5 to 10 massive bottles of beer each and every running day, to be able to convince shoppers to devour extra.

What did Bralima, the Congolese subsidiary of Heineken, get out of this with regards to additional gross sales? “I don’t assume they had been that treasured,” says a former director in DRC. “It used to be a large number. When this factor used to be occurring in Cambodia, we additionally were given laws, however they didn’t trade a perfect deal. For some time, control employed taxis to get the ladies house at night time, however in the end they made up our minds this used to be too dear. The ones women had been getting not up to the minimal salary, they usually had been utilized by Bralima group of workers. Very steadily those had been women with issues, very prone. For the reason that we paid them so little or no, they had been just about compelled to move house with a person.”

Stefaan van der Borght, Heineken’s former director for world well being affairs, says that at one level Heineken attempted promotion boys: “We needed to remove the affiliation with intercourse, nevertheless it didn’t paintings. Some other concern used to be that we used subcontractors, for causes of flexibleness. From time to time you wanted a large number of women, for events, and at different occasions it used to be quiet. So that you had been burdening those subcontractors with the workload and the social duties, whilst Heineken used to be held responsible.”


Promotion ladies in DRC and Nigeria proceed to paintings underneath probably the most dreadful prerequisites. “Each and every night time I’m touched in opposition to my will. It doesn’t topic whether or not I paintings in a pricey cafe or a well-liked bar,” says Peace, a promotion lady in Lagos. Her colleague Sylvia provides: “We discover ways to maintain this. Right through the instruction, they let us know there will likely be disturbing males. However it’s a must to tolerate them as a result of you are attempting to extend gross sales and make the emblem more potent.”

“We be informed that we must now not reply aggressively or say ‘forestall’. Via strolling away, you allow them to know that it’s now not preferred,” says Peace.

However what if any individual continues? Is there any individual there, from the company hiring the ladies, any individual they may be able to communicate to? “Sure there’s, infrequently, however steadily now not,” she continues. “This is a public house, so there will likely be no rapes. That may best occur when the ladies move with the shoppers. However that could be a selection. Our employer thinks: for those who don’t like being fondled, you should search for different paintings. I don’t even understand it any further. I look forward to it.”

The ladies’s earning fluctuate from one company to any other, and on reasonable, on the time of this analysis, they earn about $eight according to day. In a pricey town like Lagos, this isn’t a lot, nevertheless it tallies with different types of unskilled paintings.

A large number of ladies take the danger of sound asleep with the shoppers. Peace and Sylvia assume that no less than part in their colleagues are doing this. “Those women can’t strengthen themselves and they’re determined. That is the best way they earn a lot more cash,” stated Peace. And what do the employers assume? Are they looking to save you it?

“No, no doubt now not,” says Sylvia. “They love it while you act like this as it is helping gross sales.”

Peace consents: “They retain women like that as a result of they bring about many shoppers.”

In Lagos by myself, masses or in all probability hundreds of promotion ladies are used to promote Heineken manufacturers. The placement in Nigeria isn’t remarkable. In keeping with a well-connected supply, there are no less than 100 ladies energetic in Kinshasa, captial of DRC, and an unknown quantity in different Congolese towns.

Heineken’s Nigerian distribution centre.



Heineken’s Nigerian distribution centre. {Photograph}: Maarten Udema/Heineken

“In fact those women are stressed, they’re filles à tout faire (women you’ll do anything else with). It’s a part of the occupation,” says one Kinshasa salesman who used to paintings with the ladies. He calls them “whores” sooner than proceeding: “From time to time Bralima makes use of actual prostitutes as a result of they know the way to seduce a buyer, and that’s nice. However others are stricter and draw a line the buyer should now not pass. They’ve a troublesome time as a result of for those who paintings in a bar you’re thought to be a public lady. The brewery doesn’t care about them.”

Even for different Heineken team of workers in Africa, being a lady isn’t at all times simple. In keeping with various folks I spoke to, around the continent, formidable ladies infrequently must get intimate with the HR supervisor – typically an area member of team of workers – to get a task or protected a promotion. Expats at control point know the rumours, however hardly ever imagine it their precedence to carry the problem to consideration.

Wesseling, the previous HR supervisor, says: “We knew that all the way through the 1990s, issues had been going down in Congo that had been past the light. We had an important HR supervisor who maintained a ramification process that will now not be authorised right here. Girls had to offer sexual services and products to get a task.” Heineken’s present CEO, Van Boxmeer, used to be basic supervisor of Bralima from 1993 to 1996. However in step with Wesseling, “he didn’t act when he used to be basic supervisor there”.

Different insiders informed tales of expat managers in Africa a handing out jobs to their girlfriends. The Rwandan female friend of a best supervisor in DRC turned into the gasoline provider for one in every of their breweries despite the fact that the former one used to be inexpensive and extra dependable, in step with the ones within the know. In Nigeria, an expat director gave secretarial jobs to 2 of his conquests, for which they had been totally unqualified, in step with colleagues. And one nationwide director allegedly requested for feminine team of workers he sought after for himself to first be despatched to the scientific division to be able to have an Aids check.


Wchicken my e-book on Heineken used to be revealed within the Netherlands remaining yr, the Dutch parliament handed a movement calling at the present minister for building and international industry, Sigrid Kaag, to get difficult on abuses inside of or by way of Dutch industry in another country. The abuse of promotion ladies had direct penalties for the corporate. The World Fund, supported by way of Invoice Gates, suspended cooperation with Heineken as a result of the scandal, and the Dutch ASN Financial institution, following a 3rd inquiry, got rid of Heineken from its sustainable funding fund and has halted all different monetary involvement with the corporate till additional understand.

Heineken revised an previous declaration during which it had claimed that the corporate hired simply 200 promotion ladies in two international locations in Africa. An inside inquiry now published an estimated 4,00zero ladies in 13 international locations. The corporate introduced a chain of measures: transparent and unambiguous laws, coaching, get dressed codes, no alcohol at the task and shipping house after paintings. Those are, virtually word-for-word, the similar measures that had been installed a coverage paper in 2004, which remained an empty promise.

However this time, Heineken stated, issues actually can be other. So, in March 2018, the corporate made a company promise that reassured some politicians and stakeholders. “If we will be able to’t ensure just right running prerequisites for our promoters in positive markets by way of the top of June, we’ll forestall using them there.”

In the summertime of 2018, I went to Kenya to look for myself whether or not Heineken had stored its be aware this time. Was once I even shocked? I met with six promotion ladies, who all informed me the similar tales: not anything had modified. They nonetheless needed to settle for sexual harassment as a part of the task, their uniforms had been so brief it made them really feel like prostitutes, and a few of them had been compelled to sleep with their bosses. In an interview with a Dutch newspaper a couple of months later, Van Boxmeer referred to as my reporting at the promotion ladies “exaggerated”, with out specifying why. “We can’t be accountable if a buyer treats a promoter inappropriately,” he stated. “We will’t keep watch over the whole lot.”

Freddy Heineken, the corporate’s mythical CEO, who died in 2002, used to mention: “Other people don’t drink beer. They drink advertising.” He understood that promoting beer effectively is an issue of psychology. It’s about symbol and an emotion. For a few years, Heineken’s symbol has remained in large part untroubled by way of the truth of its operations in Africa. “I will be able to inform you from the ground of my middle that right here at Heineken we wish to support issues and wish to give a contribution undoubtedly to the societies the place we function,” one member of team of workers at Heineken’s head place of job in Amsterdam informed me. “We attempt to stick with all of the laws, on the other hand tough that can be. I’m harm that that is trivialised with remarks that counsel it’s all simply trade and advertising to us. It is vitally tough to be an island of perfection in a sea of distress, however please, don’t doubt our sincerity.”

Heineken as an “island of perfection”. And Africa, the place Heineken has made billions previously century? “A sea of distress.” However, after all, we must now not doubt Heineken’s sincerity.

Translated by way of Bram Posthumus. Tailored from Heineken in Africa: A Multinational Unleashed by way of Olivier van Beemen, revealed by way of Hurst on 14 February and to be had at guardianbookshop.com

Practice the Lengthy Learn on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or signal as much as the lengthy learn weekly e-mail right here.



Supply hyperlink

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.