RICHMOND, Va.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Altria Group, Inc. (NYSE: MO) today announces that we will conduct an equity and civil rights assessment (Assessment). The Assessment follows last year’s passage of a shareholder proposal recommending Altria commission a civil rights equity audit and seeks to address feedback received from recent robust shareholder engagement. We believe the Assessment will identify opportunities to accelerate progress toward our 2025 Corporate Responsibility focus area goals, enhance stakeholder alignment and promote transparency.
Consistent with our prior commitments and efforts in these areas, the Assessment will review our policies, practices, programs and services intended to address the harm associated with tobacco use and the effectiveness of our harm reduction efforts, including underage tobacco use prevention programs, tobacco cessation support, responsible marketing practices and regulatory engagement and public policy. The Assessment will include an evaluation of these policies, practices, programs and services on communities of color and youth, as well as our inclusion, diversity and equity (ID&E) progress.
The Assessment, which our Board of Directors (Board) has authorized, will be led by Altria and overseen by an external advisory review board consisting of third-party, independent members who possess relevant expertise in fields such as civil rights, ID&E, legal/law enforcement, public policy, public health and youth development. The external advisory review board will advise on and oversee the Assessment, including the scope, stakeholder engagement and, ultimately, the presentation of the findings in a published report, which will be subject to assurance by a third-party firm. We will continue to prioritize our long-standing robust stakeholder engagement approach throughout the Assessment. We intend to seek input from key stakeholders, such as investors, shareholder proponents, employees, customers, suppliers, community partners, policy makers and civil rights organizations. Our Board’s Nominating, Corporate Governance and Social Responsibility Committee, which is comprised entirely of independent directors, will provide Board-level oversight of the Assessment.
The Assessment design takes into consideration emerging practices for these types of audits, potential risks and the potential benefits to Altria and our shareholders from the Assessment as we pursue our Vision. Because the topics raised in the shareholder proposal are subject to active and pending litigation involving our companies’ tobacco products, the Assessment plan considers mitigating litigation risk while including extensive third-party perspective and oversight. Furthermore, the Assessment is intended to address the concerns raised by the shareholder proponents. We believe the structure of the Assessment mitigates potential risks with alternative forms of assessments, while being responsive to the shareholder vote.
In the second half of 2022, we contacted our top 30 shareholders – representing approximately 43% of our outstanding shares – to seek their views concerning the requested civil rights equity audit and our proposed approach to conducting the Assessment. We met with all shareholders that accepted our request to meet. The feedback we received from these investors helped inform our approach to the Assessment and confirmed our belief that the Assessment is responsive to the shareholder vote.
We plan to post on altria.com a report discussing the results of the Assessment within approximately 12 months from when we begin the Assessment.
We have a leading portfolio of tobacco products for U.S. tobacco consumers age 21+. Our Vision by 2030 is to responsibly lead the transition of adult smokers to a smoke-free future (Vision). We are Moving Beyond Smoking™, leading the way in moving adult smokers away from cigarettes by taking action to transition millions to potentially less harmful choices – believing it is a substantial opportunity for adult tobacco consumers, our businesses and society.
Our wholly owned subsidiaries include leading manufacturers of both combustible and smoke-free products. In combustibles, we own Philip Morris USA Inc. (PM USA), the most profitable U.S. cigarette manufacturer, and John Middleton Co. (Middleton), a leading U.S. cigar manufacturer. Our smoke-free portfolio includes ownership of U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company LLC (USSTC), the leading global moist smokeless tobacco (MST) manufacturer, and Helix Innovations LLC (Helix), a leading manufacturer of oral nicotine pouches.
Additionally, we have a majority-owned joint venture, Horizon Innovations LLC (Horizon), for the U.S. marketing and commercialization of heated tobacco stick products and, through a separate agreement, we have the exclusive U.S. commercialization rights to the IQOS Tobacco Heating System® and Marlboro HeatSticks® through April 2024.
Our equity investments include Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV (ABI), the world’s largest brewer, Cronos Group Inc. (Cronos), a leading Canadian cannabinoid company, and JUUL Labs, Inc. (JUUL), a U.S. based e-vapor company.
The brand portfolios of our tobacco operating companies include Marlboro®, Black & Mild®, Copenhagen®, Skoal® and on!®. Trademarks and service marks related to Altria referenced in this release are the property of Altria or our subsidiaries or are used with permission.
Learn more about Altria at www.altria.com and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.