Philippe Boucher's Rendez Vous: Kathryn Mulvey

Rendez-vous with . . . Kathryn Mulvey

Executive Director of INFACT
Boston, Massachusetts

By Philippe Boucher

Thursday, January 18 , 2001

PB: Thank you Kathryn for accepting our rendez-vous.
May I ask you to introduce yourself?

Kathryn Mulvey: I am Kathryn Mulvey, Executive Director of INFACT. I have been working with INFACT for over 11 years. Since 1977, INFACT has been exposing life-threatening abuses by transnational corporations and organizing successful grassroots campaigns to hold corporations accountable to consumers and society at large.

From the Nestlé Boycott of the 1970s and 80s over infant formula marketing, to the GE Boycott of the 1980s and 90s to curb nuclear weapons production and promotion, to today's boycott of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese-a product of tobacco giant Philip Morris-INFACT organizes to win! Through our broad-based consumer campaigns and our Corporate Hall of Shame, we are building an active, aware public and a core of well-trained organizers who will lead the grassroots challenge to unwarranted corporate influence for years to come.

Q1. "Making a Killing" was first shown in September 2000, before the public hearings that took place in Geneva about the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Will the film be aired on TVs? in the US? outside the US? Will it eventually be aired in movie theaters?

K M: "Making a Killing" has already received wide-exposure both in the US and abroad. The film was premiered and ran for a week in New York at the Screening Room and subsequently served as the center piece for actions held around the world during the International Week of Resistance to Tobacco Transnationals held in October.

Among the thousands of people who have seen "Making a Killing" internationally are delegates negotiating a Framework Convention treaty on Tobacco Control and Health Ministers, with coverage in national media outlets in Nigeria, Albania, just to name two. The film has been increasing activity and awareness around the globe. In Hungary, the film was screened before some members of Parliament during the International Week of Resistance, and afterwards, a tobacco control bill limiting the advertising and promotion of tobacco ads was introduced and ratified. This dramatic response to "Making a Killing" serves as a testament to its power. See for more information about how the film has been used internationally.

We will pursue television showings through community access stations here in the States and abroad with folks connected with major networks. The theatre run at the Screening Room was a qualifier for the Academy Awards Best Short Documentary competition. In order to maintain our eligibility for nomination, the film cannot be aired on television until after the first week of April 2001. INFACT has a history with the Oscars: in 1991 our film "Deadly Deception": General Electric, Nuclear Weapons and Our Environment played a pivotal role in gaining visibility for the campaign and, eventually, helped push General Electric out of the nuclear weapons business.

With regards to presenting the film in movie theatres, we've got thousands of videos ready for distribution, and as a grassroots organization, we will focus our efforts primarily on community-based showings on campuses, in churches, temples, libraries, and small theatres organized by INFACT activists from coast to coast. The person to person contact afforded through showings is the best way to build a campaign like this.

Q2. You quote an internal industry document about "innovative tactic e.g. documentaries that could involve a larger segment, particularly outside the US".

Do you think "Making a Killing" could trigger such an international reaction? How would the film reach non English speaking audiences? I remember how difficult it was to dub Death in the West and how reluctant TV channels were to air it, although it does not seem Philip Morris wants to censor "Making a Killing."

K M: We know Philip Morris is concerned about INFACT in light of the impact "Deadly Deception" had - the film reached 1 billion people with the GE Boycott message. The tobacco giant certainly fears exposure, which is why it is spending so much money to build a positive image with consumers and policy-makers. The last thing Philip Morris wants is for its carefully crafted image to be tarnished.

When it comes to reaching non-English speaking audiences, we can look at the fact that "Deadly Deception" aired on national television in 60 countries and was translated into 40 languages. This displays that media outside the US is still less corporate controlled and more publicly accountable. When a national television network wants to air a film, they have the resources to dub it. We will pursue this avenue, and through the Network for the Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals -- a network of human rights, fair trade, faith-based, environmental justice and corporate accountability organizations that INFACT facilitates -- we will coordinate with committed activists in 30 countries to get TV visibility.

Q3. Someone in the film (Charyn Sutton) predicts that the $ 100 million a year Philip Morris fuzzy campaign to beautify their corporate image will finally backfire. I hope so but I wonder where the counterattacks will come from, especially with the Nabisco purchase that makes PM even more influential as far as the TV ad market is concerned. The industry quote I just mentioned in 2 refers to documentaries (plural). Are other films necessary? Should the pro-health lobby have such a documentary strategy to regularly produce such films exposing the new industry tricks? If so, can you give us an estimate of the required investment for a documentary like "Making a Killing"?

K M: The Nabisco acquisition certainly enhances Philip Morris's influence, but at the same time it signals a key weakness in the corporation. It's a move to protect Philip Morris's food business in reaction to both a major consumer boycott and food industry mergers - it needed Nabisco to retain its #2 position in the food industry. In the face of our campaign exposure, the luster of Kraft is not enough for the tobacco giant to cover its deadly abuses. It's unethical practices are so heinous, that even the supposedly wholesome image of Kraft falls short of hiding the Marlboro Man's tracks. Fundamentally, changing the cost-benefit ratio for Philip Morris to do business is what our campaign is about - and we see that happening. Philip Morris is spending well over its planned $100 million a year on its advertising, with an increase in its corporate image advertising of over 800% from 1998 to 1999, and a record $142 million spent on image advertising in the first half of 2000 alone.

People see through the corporation's ads and while Philip Morris attempts to use Kraft to mask its abuses, they are simply putting the food brand at risk and making more people aware of its link to a tobacco corporation.

For INFACT, which as a grassroots organization is resource limited, we made this film when we had the financial resources, but also as a tool to do in-depth organizing. Shelved films are not really valuable. Organizations without organizing plans might try other tactics.

Regarding financial requirements, I encourage anybody considering, to factor in not only the financial investment but the time investment as well. We started planning "Making a Killing" two years ago, and now we are investing time and money into the release and distribution as well. Obviously, documentary film production has gotten less expensive since "Deadly Deception" due to technological advancements, but costs also vary greatly due to the labor market conditions as well as the production market climate.

Q4. I watched the film with my ten year old and she liked it. Do you intend to reach out toward kids and schools? How?

K M: Yes, "Making a Killing" is targeted specifically towards boycotters and kids are amongst the most committed boycotters. Our experience demonstrates that kids tend to differentiate between right and wrong more often than adults. Additionally, they are empowered by voting with their pocketbooks and encouraged to use their consumer positions for social change. One of the main reasons we chose to target Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is that it is marketed to kids, just as Philip Morris targets kids with the Marlboro Man. Thus, kids can not only foster change on their own but also hold their parents accountable.

Additionally, the film has been used with kids in the US and abroad. In Ghana, a panel of public health officials toured schools in Accra screening "Making a Killing". Over 3,000 youth were reached through these showings. And in Durham, North Carolina the film was used with middle and high school students.

In the long run, to hold transnational corporations accountable for life threatening abuses we need current and future generations to recognize their power and participate in grassroots campaigns. Additionally, the VHS format of the film has been made as affordable as possible for people to purchase and put to work.

5. Boycotting is an original weapon that Infact proposes. Is there any way to assess how effective it is, can be?

As far as the film is concerned, it refers to Kraft, which is well known in the US but much less in other countries. On the other hand, chocolate brands like Toblerone, Suchard, Cote d'Or, that Philip Morris bought out in the recent years are widely recognized in France, Belgium, Switzerland while very little known in the US. Although Philip Morris a global multinational, its most famous brands (outside tobacco) vary from country to country. Can the boycott be adapted to each country?

What about "Making a Killing"? Could the main international brands be listed at the end (beside the generic reference to Kraft?)?

K M: Philip Morris will never admit the effectiveness of the boycott, so we in turn look at its actions, which speak louder than its words, as evidence. Image advertising is a big measure of engagement with the campaign. In the US, we are the main organization linking Kraft and Philip Morris. We're seeing an image campaign to draw a positive link between the two as a significant response.

Fundamentally, decisions are made by people in Philip Morris and we find the conditions within the corporation are pushing them to "Making a Killing" changes in policy. Hundreds of internal Philip Morris documents released for public viewing through legal settlement touch upon INFACT and the boycott, revealing that top executives all the way up to the CEO are kept informed on a regular basis.

Philip Morris is also undergoing a brain-drain as they are losing top executive talent, particularly in the food business. Many times people in the tobacco industry are hardened by the very nature of their work, whereas those in the food industry have the option to work somewhere not associated with tobacco. Take, for example, Robert Eckert, former CEO of Kraft Foods, who resigned unexpectedly a few weeks after receiving an Open Letter from religious leaders across the country organized by INFACT denouncing Kraft's association with Philip Morris. It was rumored that Eckert was being groomed to eventually head Philip Morris and instead he took over as CEO of Mattel, a position which, comparatively, was a real downgrade.

INFACT's boycott is focused on US consumers as the backbone of the US-based corporation's power and influence -- its most important market. We have focused on the Kraft brand name because it is Philip Morris's most valuable and most widely advertised brand. The Kraft brand is integral to the tobacco giant's image, one of its most valued and recognizable products - and it's marketed to kids!

"Making a Killing" was produced with a primarily US based audience in mind. The film is meant to build support for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, therefore it is international in scope. We have found that the film is therefore well received in other countries and that people can relate to it. With regards to expanding the product list, we were setting out to build intense pressure on Kraft did not want to overwhelm viewers with the entire product list.

Q6. Is there anything you would like to add?

K M: Consumers and policymakers must understand that Philip Morris is able to get away with abuses like the Marlboro Man because they have access to the debate on public health. Last year the tobacco giant was the #2 contributor of soft money donations in the 1999-2000 election cycle, purchasing a place for themselves at the public health table. And in other countries, similar tactics are often not as subtle and can be labeled as outright bribery. The surest way to effectively keep corporations like Philip Morris from corrupting the democratic system is to assume an active role in grassroots pressure like INFACT's Kraft Boycott.

To learn more about the growing Kraft Boycott visit, and to order "Making a Killing" call 1-800-688-8797.

PB: Thank you Kathryn for taking the time to be with us today.

Rendez-vous is supported by a contract from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
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