Heineken in Africa – Olivier van Beemen

Van Beemen Heineken-CMYK

For media enquiries in the USA or Canada, please contact Oxford University Press: poppy.hatrick [at] oup.com. The author is at oli4vb [at] gmail.com

Heineken in Africa. A Multinational Unleashed has been released on 14 Feb 2019 at Hurst Publishers. Order your copy here. It is a critical case study about the business practices of the Dutch brewer in Africa. The revelations in the book have led to parliamentary questions being asked in both the Dutch national assembly and the European Parliament, a boycot in France, the divestment of a Dutch bank and the unilateral suspension of a partnership with a prominent NGO.

To get an idea of its content, read this long read in The Guardian or listen to this interview at BBC Business Daily.

The book was nominated for the Lira Scherpenzeel Prijs for ‘groundbreaking international journalism’ and has been reprinted four times. It made news headlines in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Burundi.

The author, Olivier van Beemen, has been invited to give lectures and presentations at international conferences in different countries throughout Africa, Europe and Australia, and at prestigious locations in his home country, such as the Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs and several universities. The Dutch book has become subject of a course at the University of Amsterdam

About the book:

Heineken in Africa is the result of five years of thorough research, not only in the twelve African countries where Heineken has its own breweries and joint ventures, but also in the company’s archives and literature. The author has spoken to 400 sources within and around the company.

The book has revealed many controversial facts and practices that made headlines in the Netherlands. It shows how Heineken collaborates with dictators, authoritarian governments and an alleged war criminal, how it’s using a mysterious Belgian operating company for tax avoidance in African countries and that the company is tied to human rights violations and high level corruption. 

The scope of Heineken in Africa however goes beyond revelations and scandals. Van Beemen gives new insights and analyses about conducting business in Africa and the role of multinational companies in developing countries. The book is written in an accessible, fluent style and the country-specific chapters give lively observations on modern, urbanised Africa.

A major conclusion is that Heineken has succeeded in imposing its own narrative. The company presents Africa as a continent full of obstacles and barriers – such as unreliable infrastructure, a lack of rule of law and low levels of education – which make it difficult to do business and to find skilled employees.

While these obstacles do exist, the company fails to mention that they offer opportunities that outweigh the inconveniences. In most African countries, Heineken has unlimited possibilities for marketing and sponsorships and there are no restrictions on selling beer. The average low level of education means that marketing can more easily influence customers. Heineken has succeeded in associating its beer with positive characteristics, such as success, status, health, masculinity and physical power, despite its marketing code prohibiting such links.

Moreover, it’s generally easier in Africa than elsewhere to keep new competitors off the market, resulting in highly profitable mono- or duopolies in most countries. Africans often pay more for their beers than Europeans, not only relatively but in absolute prices. Thus, Heineken earns almost 50 percent more on a beer in Africa than the global average.

Heineken claims to have a positive impact on economic development and employment in Africa. Dutch politicians from across the political spectrum, including Prime Minister Rutte, have praised the brewer on numerous occasions for this reason, and so has Queen Máxima. After investigation though, these claims turn out to be unfounded or even false. On balance, Heineken’s presence has hardly benefited Africa at all, and may in fact have been harmful. The limited number of jobs created doesn’t compensate for the ones destroyed in the traditional brewing sector, and Heineken never takes into account the damage alcohol abuse causes to the economies and societies where it operates.