Groups demand tobacco lobbyist stops claiming links

7 November 2016:

Nestlé and World Bank request to be removed from website

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Nestlé and the World Bank are among a number of organisations to demand that a controversial lobby group for tobacco companies stops claiming links to them.

The International Tax and Investment Center, which describes itself as a “non-profit research and educational organisation” that gives clients “a seat at the policymaking table”, has claimed on its website to “work closely” with the World Bank.

It also listed Nestlé, law firm Pinsent Masons and the UK Department for International Development as its sponsors.

However, when Tax Justice Network wrote to sponsors and affiliated bodies asking if they were aware of the claims, all four organisations said they had no ongoing relationship with the lobby group.

ITIC works with organisations in a range of industries. But, in 2014, it was publicly denounced by the World Health Organisation for promoting “false” information on behalf of the tobacco industry. “ITIC has published extensively in favour of the tobacco industry’s false positions on excise taxation, investment and illicit trade in tobacco products,” said Dr Douglas Bettcher, a director at the WHO.

Around this time, some organisations ended their dealings with ITIC. The World Bank withdrew from an ITIC-organised event in 2015, and told Tax Justice Network: “The World Bank Group does not have a formal partnership with ITIC.” Timothy Evans, writing on behalf of World Bank president Dr Jim Yong Kim, said: “We have, in fact, previously contacted ITIC requesting that they remove the name of the World Bank Group from their homepage.”

Nestlé, which ITIC listed as a sponsor until earlier this year, said it had ceased contributing to ITIC in 2014. It said it had “taken action” over use of its logo on ITIC’s website.

Law firm Pinsent Masons was listed as a sponsor as recently as 2016, but ceased contributions to ITIC in 2013.

ITIC said it had agreed to comply with the World Bank’s request to remove its name, but “inadvertently missed” a reference when updating its site. It said Nestlé’s name had remained on the ITIC website for 24 months after its last payment to comply with ITIC’s policy of being “transparent”.

When asked why Pinsent Masons was listed as a sponsor more than 24 months after ending its relationship with the group, Daniel Witt, ITIC’s president, said it “certainly was not a conscious decision to leave them on the list”. ITIC has since removed references to all of the organisations from its website.

Critics have accused ITIC of publicising links with high-profile bodies to boost its image when lobbying governments. “Central to ITIC’s credibility with policymakers is the claim that they work closely with leading international organisations,” said Alex Cobham at the Tax Justice Network. ITIC denies this.

The UK Department for International Development was listed as a sponsor, despite having never given ITIC any money. In 2013, then secretary of state, Justine Greening, said she would demand that ITIC take down the website listing.

ITIC says it received funding from DfID’s “predecessor”, the UK Know-How Fund. DfID acknowledges that this fund made payments to ITIC, but says DfID itself had never sponsored ITIC.