I began my journey with AB InBev 16 years ago, and one element that stood out to me was how deeply I connected with the company’s purpose of Bringing People Together for a Better World.
Written by: Kartikeya Sharma, President, India & Southeast Asia, AB InBev
Building on our purpose, our commitment to India extends across shaping the country’s alcobev industry, supporting communities through meaningful initiatives and building an equitable ecosystem. Our unwavering focus has always been to bring this mission to life through ethical leadership, transforming the industry reputation, and introducing industry-leading innovations that seek to address consumer choice in the ever-evolving external environment.
Our Journey in Compliance
Compliance is at the heart of everything we do at AB InBev. We remain committed to the highest standards of ethics that are embedded across our business operations and serve as a foundation for building a company to last for the next 100+ years.
In 2016, with our integration with SABMiller, we had the opportunity to expand the existing compliance system across markets. We set a strong tone from the top and implemented a robust review mechanism while working with our partners to collaborate for better solutions. We introduced our award-winning software BrewRIGHT, which is now embedded across our operations in over 50 countries, powered by AI and machine learning that identifies patterns in everyday operations to predict and root out any potential corruption.
Last year was a crucial year for compliance, as t
Kartikeya Sharma, President, India & Southeast Asia, AB InBev
he pandemic radically changed our interactions with communities, stakeholders, governments, and other organizations. Our biggest challenge was to closely monitor projections of risk without moving or traveling. We were in a much better position than a lot of other companies, thanks to BrewRIGHT. With access to data for many areas of critical risks, we were able to predict and prevent corruption, which helped our robust Ethics and Compliance team in designing and implementing numerous pandemic response initiatives for our teams.
The health and safety of our people are of paramount importance to us. With the backdrop of the pandemic, we started collecting sensitive private information from employees, such as temperature screenings and health questionnaires, to enable a safe transition back to the workplace. However, it is important to balance the need to provide a safe workplace with employee privacy. We want to ensure we comply with safety requirements while not capturing more data than necessary. The combination of financial and health threats makes people more vulnerable and creates opportunities for fraudsters. Data from Experian’s Global Insights Report shows that 46 percent of businesses in India have seen an increase in fraud. COVID-19 undermines anti-fraud controls and procedures by keeping people physically apart from each other—which means controls that previously relied on trust and interpersonal contact no longer work.
We recognized that a lot of colleagues are under mental pressure due to the pandemic and hence are more likely to panic and act irrationally. Our teams ensured that we addressed this proactively by making sure the necessary compliance structures were in place to acknowledge them. Our employees and business partners continue to be equipped with extensive online training in bribery and corruption risks, the importance of compliance with existing laws, and how to access our whistleblower line. With working from home becoming the norm during the pandemic, data privacy and cybersecurity have been another key area of concern for companies. To ensure data safety and address data privacy issues while working remotely, we upgraded our IT infrastructure and undertook significant efforts in training our employees through continuous virtual workshops. In addition, we put in systems to ensure compliance with applicable laws and conducted privacy impact assessments of our business activities. BrewRIGHT continues to assist us in identifying potential frauds and protecting the interest of our employees. We introduced a wide range of measures to help protect our colleagues’ mental and physical health, including extended medical insurance support to our employees and their families, with two times more coverage than before.
With vaccination becoming the key arsenal in the fight against the dreaded virus, we are actively working with medical institutions and local authorities to get our employees vaccinated across our offices and breweries, setting up vaccination camps while ensuring complete adherence to the existing government guidelines.
Reiterating our Commitment to our Communities
Understanding the more significant role and responsibility we have towards our stakeholders, we did extend our support to consumers, customers, and communities. Against the backdrop of compliance initiatives, we set out to support our stakeholders across the value chain. As a gesture of immense gratitude at the beginning of the pandemic last year, we equipped over 15 lakh frontline workers across Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, and Haryana with more than 250,000 bottles of hand sanitizer, 3750 PPE Kits and 25,000 FFP2 masks. We ensured our retail trade partners stayed protected while they served consumers and drove their business forward with adequate safety measures across off-premises channels.
The pandemic brought added stress on the farming community, too. Our onthe-ground teams created innovative solutions to ensure the procurement of agri-produce was not impacted and farmers received fair compensation when they needed it the most. We remained committed to pre-COVID prices, supported our partner farmers in logistics, drove digitisation, and ensured that our farmers were educated on hygiene practices to implement a safe and successful barley procurement season.
As we witnessed the surge in COVID-19 cases during the second wave this year, we extended our support to improve health infrastructure and provide essential aid across multiple states in the country, with 300+ oxygen concentrators, more than 8000 essential aid kits supporting 9000+ COVID-19 affected families, 500,000 masks, and 5000 test kits in over 50 villages across the country. Going a step further, we have also set up a COVID hospital bed capacity at a city hospital in Bengaluru that will house isolation wards for COVID-19 patients, ICU facilities for critical care, a built-in oxygen pipeline, OPD, and screening wards for testing.
Our efforts to support our communities during this fight against COVID would be incomplete if not extended to our consumers. The launch of the “Stronger Together” initiative by Budweiser India was a crucial step in extending the power of our social media platforms to consumers who needed help and resources. By tagging us on these social platforms using #CovidEmergency, we were able to amplify and take the emergency requests from our consumers to a broader audience and ensure they received the necessary support.
This initiative supplements our efforts from 2020, which include campaigns like “BudXHome” and “WhassupBud,” to drive deeper consumer connections and be part of their lives, despite the pandemic. The “BudXHome” campaign, launched by Budweiser India in April 2020, was a live music streaming experience to bring together leading music artists to support at-risk nightlife workers amid the global pandemic. The “WhassupBud” campaign by Budweiser India, on the other hand, highlighted the importance of staying indoors by encouraging friends to check in on each other virtually and continue to celebrate their friendship, even while physically at a distance.
Over the past few months, we have shown time-and-time again that together we can remain connected and strive to shape a better world, even at a distance.
Accelerating India’s Development
As we collectively fight the pandemic, we aim to listen and assess the on-the-ground situation while keeping a close check on our employees’ mental and physical health to further implement additional interventions in the best interest of our colleagues.
India holds a significant long-term growth potential due to the profound change in the beer-drinking culture with rising income, increasing purchasing power, higher brand consciousness, changing consumer preferences, and growing urbanisation. Even through the pandemic, we continued to develop the market on all fronts. One of the key highlights was the launch of our first brewpub, 7Rivers Brewing Co., at Taj M G Road, Bengaluru, in partnership with The Indian Hotels Company Limited. We also introduced our Hoegaarden 0.0 and Hoegaarden Rosée non-alcohol beers to offer our consumers the choice to enjoy beer freely and responsibly.
Brewed the Right Way
As mentioned earlier, the pandemic has certainly accelerated the need to ensure our business operations are immersed in the high standards of ethics that are of paramount importance to us. At AB InBev, our Code of business conduct, together with our strong foundation of ethics and compliance, is deeply rooted in our operations to build value for all our stakeholders.
Personally, I believe that we all have the power to do the right thing, whether we are an individual or part of an organization. It is all about making that decision and sticking by it.
About the Expert:
Kartikeya Sharma started his journey with Anheuser Busch InBev in 2005 and currently heads both the India and South East Asia Business for the company. Kartikeya has held various key positions within the company including Business Development for new markets – East and West Africa based out of Leuven, Belgium, Brand Manager – Global & Local Portfolios here in India, Vice President Marketing for South Asia and Vice President Sales here in India. With over 15 years of experience in marketing, sales and business development, Kartikeya has led business development in Africa, Brand management of Corona at Labatt Breweries in Canada. Kartikeya was also part of the team that set up the India business via a Joint Venture, where he managed both Marketing and Trade Marketing.