10 June 2019

Ethical vodka? You must be taking the piss!

| Michael Thorn
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FARE CEO Michael Thorn questions the ethics of promoting alcohol for mental health awareness.

It’s being marketed, with a straight face, as the world’s most ethical vodka brand. This is akin to promoting the world’s most ethical oil spill.

It’s also being positioned as a way to support mental health in the hospitality industry, the suggestion being that the answer to issues of depression lies at the bottom of a bottle, and not just any bottle but a bottle of Cheers Mate vodka.

This is a lot like free matches for arsonists. Or that time diabetics were encouraged to eat an entire cheesecake every Friday morning.

At best, the idea is naïve. At worst, ‘ethical’ vodka, is dangerous, ignorant, cynical and manipulative. Because why would you sell a product that’s responsible for the very harm you’re supposedly so concerned about?

Of course, Cheers Mate isn’t the first, and won’t be the last alcohol industry figure to leverage a swig of corporate social responsibly in order to boost his bottom line.

And while the company’s desire to give back to the community, and in particular the hospitality industry in which their product sells, might be admirable and even genuine, it is incredibly misguided.

You wouldn’t support the thousands of people injured and orphaned by exploding landmines by selling them landmines; no matter how lucrative.

And lest you think that analogy extreme, consider for a moment alcohol’s devastating toll. Alcohol is responsible for nearly 6,000 deaths per year in Australia. And the links between alcohol, depression and suicide are very real.

Speaking to Canberra news outlet RiotACT ahead of a planned launch party, the founder speaks candidly about the friends he has lost to mental health issues, and how funds raised by flogging vodka can support groups for alcohol-related issues.

“I wanted to create a product that was not just enjoyable but also made a positive difference to peoples’ lives”, he said.

Osborne can take small comfort that he’s in good company. Aussie icon Olivia Newton-John recently found herself roundly criticised for flogging wine in the name of cancer research.

You can see why that’s problematic since one in four Australian alcohol-related deaths are a result of cancer.

Unfortunately, it’s such a common practice that the term pinkwashing was coined to describe the incongruous marketing of an unhealthy product, claiming to care about breast cancer while at the same time manufacturing or selling a product that causes cancer.

In Australia, a study by the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA) found that hospitality industry workers – the very workers and colleagues the company is so concerned about – were 3.5 times more likely than other workers to drink alcohol and two to three times more likely to use drugs at work or attend work under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

With that knowledge, it’s difficult to argue that the manufacturer of the world’s most ‘ethical’ vodka, isn’t simply taking the piss.

Michael Thorn is the Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE).

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I would have thought promoting lower-strength drinks or better still mocktails and making non-alcoholic drinking more acceptable among “mates” would be more honest and appropriate than using spirits for this purpose. Alcoholics like to use excuses to drink – what better excuse to down a bottle of spirits than “I’m helping people by doing this?” I’d like to hear from the organisations that work at the coalface of alcoholic dysfunction about what they think of this initiative.

As a distilling company, we chose the most popular product (Vodka) as sales are the highest, easiest and costs are minimal as to maximise the margins we could give back. As we do not make non-alcoholic beverages we turned what we already do into a message and fundraiser. There are some fantastic low or no abv beverages and bottled mocktails on the market and would greatly encourage them to help fund change and support networks but I have not seen any that give back in this way. These businesses fill a market demand for being an alternate choice to drinking altogether which is fantastic especially with the quality of products that are coming out. Cheers Mate is for people who still want to enjoy (Responsibly) an alcoholic beverage but make a more ethical choice about it. The hope is that instead of purchasing an expensive import vodka from a global company that doesn’t give back to our local community or care about the negative impacts, people will support Cheers Mate. Which supports local industries (the Victorian farmers we purchase the wheat from to make the vodka, local glass manufacturers etc.), a brand that is socially responsible, cares and looks after people, for the same price. Sadly people will always miss use alcohol, so our endeavour is for harm minimisation and providing help and support for those who need it.

Is Cheers Mate really a paradox you don’t understand? Or does this article represent an organisation with an axe to grind against anything alcohol related?

Ben asks the question IF you’re going to have a drink, why not pick one that’s Australian made, tastes great, and gives back.? That’s it.

Plain and simple, IF you choose to drink, IF you are to buy a bottle of vodka, this is the ethical choice. We don’t live in a perfect world where no one drinks or has issues, so why not support a brand that is doing good? I don’t make money from this social enterprise. The profits go directly back to promote better awareness of mental health and support networks in Canberra Hospitality industry. Our close network of over 60 Canberra hospitality workers decides how best we can use the money to help our own industry. ?The alternative choice here is to support a sizeable global Vodka brand that ships profit overseas and does nothing to support the local industry or its people.

To be clear, I do not need to give back to the community. But for an industry I care so much about and have seen first hand some of the most disturbing sides of, I will. I can help provide the support that is lacking, now that I have the resources and power to help, I am doing everything I can. I have spent hundreds of my own hours and invested my own money into setting this up for one reason, to help. ?

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