Heineken promo-girls sexually harassed in African countries: report

Heineken Experience, Amsterdam
A long line of bottles at the Heineken Experience in AmsterdamAndyBryantWikimedia Commons

Many of the promotion girls Heineken uses in African countries to stimulate the sale of the Dutch beer, are faced with sexual harassment during their work, according to Olivier van Beemen, who investigated the situation these young women face and wrote a book about it.

In an article in NRC, Van Beemen writes that many Heineken promotion girls have to deal with sexual harassment or assault, have to go to bed with managers, and prostitute themselves to clients. Heineken has known about this problem for 15 years, but does little about it, he said.

Van Beemen quotes two 26-year-old promo girls working in Lagos, Nigeria. They don't work directly for Nigerian Breweries, Heineken's local subsidiary, but through various agencies which are in turn hired by a subcontractor of the Heineken subsidiary. In preparation for a Heineken campaign, the two women were given tips about how to boost consumption and how to deal with difficult customers.

"They warn us that we will encounter annoying men. You have to tolerate that, because you want to sell more and strengthen the brand", Sylvia said. Peace added: "We must not react fiercely and not say stop if we are harassed. By walking away you show that you do not appreciate their behavior." Sometimes a manager will step in to help, but not always. "It is a public space, so it does not come to rape. This only happens if girls go with customers. But that is their choice. Our employer thinks: if you do not alow the touches, you should look for another job", Peace said.

According to Peace, she deals with unwelcome touches every night. "I don't even notice it anymore. I focus on that." Peace and Sylvia think that about half their colleagues end up having sex with customers for money. "Those girls can not survive and are desperate. Sex pays more." Peace said. Both women told Van Beemen that many promotion girls are actually sex workers who use promoting beer as a good way to meet potential customers. 

Heineken admitted to NOS that these kind of abuses are happening. The Dutch beer giant wants to work with other beer brands, promotional agencies and other involved parties to take steps to stop these abuses. The company mentioned "clear rules, training, clothing regulations, prohibition on drinking alcohol during promotion, supervisors of the promotion center in bars and transport to home from work", according to the broadcaster.

"This problem deserves more attention than it received from us and other stakeholders in recent years", Heineken said. "The practices described by Olivier van Beemen completely contradict what we as a company stand for and we strongly condemn these abuses."