Opinion: Marketing & Access

Companies in the Conversation: Alcohol Producers’ Role in Responsibility

Although responsibilities and rights have been a focus for beverage alcohol companies for the past century, over the past decade or so, we have seen beverage alcohol companies pay increasing attention to responsibility issues, in efforts ranging from media campaigns to industry-sponsored public education programs. The Issues Forum is an example of such an effort, with real potential for generating lively discussion and new insights.

While this is a new venture in public discourse, it is also representative of Brown-Forman’s commitment over the years to promote better understanding about responsible drinking, and help to curb the harm caused by irresponsible consumption. The Issues Forum presents an opportunity to make this focus much more visible—to people outside the company and also outside the industry, including consumers and even abstainers, as well as public health and advocacy groups.

Responsibility issues are critical to the entire beverage alcohol industry—as well as to the private sector in general, and public health worldwide. If you take a look at the UN Global Compact, for instance, you see a call for companies to be accountable to a much broader range of stakeholders.

In this spirit, The Issues Forum is also an example of a company embracing its role as a stakeholder in taking on difficult alcohol-related issues, and in being part of the solution in reducing the harmful effects of irresponsible alcohol consumption. Serious problems such as drunk driving and underage drinking have for years been the topic of discussion and even heated debate within the industry. Making the commitment to air this discourse and lend it greater transparency is, in my mind, a significant step forward.

I find it promising that The Issues Forum has been constructed as an open forum, intended to encourage ongoing discussion and debate. I hope that people within and outside of the industry—from those with great expertise to those with simply great interest—will actively converse about the critical issues addressed on The Issues Forum. The company notes that it is making a point to acknowledge an expanse of opinions, including those it may not share. This is the essence of any constructive dialogue, and I look forward to what will hopefully be insightful exchanges about topics which are important to everybody who cares about the place of alcohol in society.

*IARD is a not-for-profit organization, supported by major producers of beverage alcohol, including Brown-Forman. It serves as a resource for all those interested in alcohol policy worldwide, promoting dialogue involving the drinks industry, the research and public health communities, government, and civil society.


The beverage alcohol industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world. Self-regulation, or voluntary regulation above requirements, by beverage alcohol companies can be based on individual company, industry, or industry association codes, or any combination of such codes to which a company commits its compliance. Self-regulation addresses matters such as ad placement, responsible consumption messaging and vetting of marketing campaigns, among others.

Challenges in Responsible Retailing

Both on-premise and off-premise alcohol retailers experience challenges in responsible retailing. Rigorous law enforcement increases risk to retailers, on-premise retailers find themselves responsible for the behavior of customers before they arrive. Employee training is key to ensuring responsible retailing.

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