Document Type : Original Article
Tobacco Control Research Group (TCRG), Department for Health, University of Bath, Bath, UK
School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
Alfred Deakin Institute, Deakin University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
International Health Policy Programme, Ministry of Public Health, Nonthaburi, Thailand
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) kill 41 million people a year. The products and services of unhealthy commodity industries (UCIs) such as tobacco, alcohol, ultra-processed foods and beverages and gambling are responsible for much of this health burden. While effective public health policies are available to address this, UCIs have consistently sought to stop governments and global organisations adopting such policies through what is known as corporate political activity (CPA). We aimed to contribute to the study of CPA and development of effective countermeasures by formulating a model and evidence-informed taxonomies of UCI political activity.
We used five complementary methods: critical interpretive synthesis of the conceptual CPA literature; brief interviews; expert co-author knowledge; stakeholder workshops; testing against the literature.
We found 11 original conceptualisations of CPA; four had been used by other researchers and reported in 24 additional review papers. Combining an interpretive synthesis of all these papers and feedback from users, we developed two taxonomies – one on framing strategies and one on action strategies. The former identified three frames (policy actors, problem, and solutions) and the latter six strategies (access and influence policy-making, use the law, manufacture support for industry, shape evidence to manufacture doubt, displace, and usurp public health, manage reputations to industry’s advantage). We also offer an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of UCI strategies and a model that situates industry CPA in the wider social, political, and economic context.
Our work confirms the similarity of CPA across UCIs and demonstrates its extensive and multi-faceted nature, the disproportionate power of corporations in policy spaces and the unacceptable conflicts of interest that characterise their engagement with policy-making. We suggest that industry CPA is recognised as a corruption of democracy, not an element of participatory democracy. Our taxonomies and model provide a starting point for developing effective solutions.