Professor Robert Eccles

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Robert (‘Bob’) G. Eccles is a Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School in the United States (US) and a Visiting Professor of Management Practice at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford in the United Kingdom (UK).[1]

Eccles’ expertise is in ‘integrated reporting’, which combines a company’s financial, social and environmental information in a standalone document. He is also an expert on developing sustainable corporate strategies.[1]

Background

Eccles is one of the founders of the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), an international network of mostly private sector businesses and some regulators and NGOs, which aims to establish integrated reporting as the norm in the public and private sectors.[2]

Between 2011 and 2015, Eccles was the first Chairman of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), which was established in 2011 to develop standardised sustainability accounting practices.[3]

In 2016 Eccles joined the board of the Mistra Center for Sustainable Markets at the Stockholm School of Economics (Misum).[1]

Relationship with the Tobacco Industry

Consultant for Philip Morris

In 2019 Eccles started consulting for Philip Morris International (PMI) on matters of “sustainability, social impact, and investor engagement”.[4]

In May 2019 Eccles wrote a blog on online investment magazine Barron’s, urging the investment community to become “actively engaged” tobacco investors, to help enable tobacco companies to “transform their business models and develop strategies for eliminating all cigarette sales”.[4] Eccles disclosed that he believed in this “so strongly” that he had decided to become an advisor to PMI. He urged investors to be comfortable with investments in new technologies and novel products, referring to Heated Tobacco Products (HTPs) and E-cigarettes, which he claimed “have the potential to have a significant positive impact on public health and the population”, although conceding that these products are “not risk-free”.[4] To date there is no independent scientific evidence that has shown PMI’s new products to be less harmful to health than cigarettes.

Eccles also wrote a blog on LinkedIn, the professional networking site, to further help “garner support from existing and new investors to accelerate the company’s [PMI] corporate transformation”.[5] Eccles wrote: “…it is my opinion that engagement by investors who hold tobacco stock, or could potentially invest in tobacco shares, can better influence change, then those who decide to exclude tobacco from their portfolios entirely”.[5] He added that he did a lot of “soul searching” and went through a “due diligence process” before making the decision to work for PMI, a company he claims is “the only company that has made a public commitment to eliminate smoking”.[5]

In contrast to the “dramatic transformation taking place at PMI” painted by Eccles, the tobacco giant told its 2019 Annual General Meeting that it had managed to -and remains “committed to”-maintaining leadership in the cigarette category, and that the “combustible tobacco portfolio remains the foundation of our business”.[6] The slides on PMI's “cigarette portfolio strategy” do not mention phasing out cigarettes, but rather that the company intends to focus cigarette “innovation on fewer, more impactful initiatives that can be swiftly deployed in any market”.[6] This is in line with PMI activities, in actively marketing cigarettes in low to middle income countries with large youth populations, and where the combustible segment is still showing signs of growth.[7]

Part of PMI Strategy to Rehabilitate its Image

The global investment community is one of numerous targets for PMI’s misleading claim of a commitment to harm reduction, part of the company’s corporate affairs strategy to try and rehabilitate its image as a responsible business and a ‘sustainable’ investment option.[8]

Leaked PMI corporate affairs documents dating from 2014 reveal the extent to which PMI is threatened by, in their own words, “de-normalization and industry demonization”,[9] and its “need to reverse this trend to drive future growth”.[10] One such document, a 122-slide PowerPoint presentation, shows that the company is engaged in “Continued efforts to support normalization”, through corporate social responsibility initiatives and the sale of “RRPS” [Reduced Risk Products],[9] like PMI’s heated tobacco product IQOS, which is central to PMI’s ‘harm reduction’ narrative.

The document also reveals that “third party coalition building” is key to PMI’s corporate affairs “capacity building”, highlighting the importance of finding “allies that cannot be ignored” and having “the right messages”.[9] A leaked 10-year corporate affairs plan elaborates on these messages and the need “to ‘be’ for something: establish a positive and proactive platform from which to define PMI and our purpose as a company”.[10] It also says that in order to “establish credibility with stakeholders” PMI planned to “leverage PMI’s innovation and scientific research”.[10]

Eccles appears to be enabling the company to do just that.

For more on PMI’s ‘renormalisation’ tactics, also see Foundation for a Smoke Free World.

TobaccoTactics Resources

Relevant Link

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Saïd Business School, Robert G Eccles, University of Oxford, 2019, accessed August 2019
  2. IIRC, The IIRC, undated, accessed August 2019
  3. SABS, SASB Timeline: Organizational Milestones, undated, accessed August 2019
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 R. Eccles, How to Get Big Tobacco to Quit Cigarettes, Barrons.com, 31 May 2019, accessed August 2019
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 R. Eccles, Solving the Cigarette Problem, LinkedIn.com, 1 June 2019, accessed August 2019
  6. 6.0 6.1 Louis C. Camilleri, A. Calantzopoulos, Annual Meeting of Shareholders, New York, 1 May 2019. Powerpoint Presentation and Script, Philip Morris International
  7. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Philip Morris Declares the “Year of Unsmoke”, But Launches New Cigarette in Indonesia and Sells Over 700 Billion Cigarettes a Year Worldwide, CTFK website, 18 April 2019, accessed August 2019
  8. B. King, Letter dated 19 July 2019. Re: Tobacco industry interference in global health advancement. Tobacco Free Portfolios
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Philip Morris International, Corporate affairs approach and issues. 2014. Leaked to Reuters in 2017
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Philip Morris International, 10 year Corporate Affairs Objectives and Strategies, 2014. Leaked to Reuters in 2017