3 Years of Responsibility – reviewing the Code, changing Chairs and making decisions

Core to the Portman Group’s work is the regulatory function which ensures the alcohol industry is kept as responsible as possible and that the self-regulatory model within which it operates runs successfully. Today, we publish the Regulating Through Change report exploring our work over the three years from 2018 to 2020.

New Code

It has been an exceptionally busy period marked by a number of key successes. One of our major projects for 2018 to 2020 was the consultation, launch and embedding of the latest edition of the Code. The Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks was subject to an extensive update and is now in its sixth edition. Reflecting societal changes, it includes new rules, revised guidance, and clarifications regarding the explicit protection of the vulnerable, prevention of widespread or serious offence, illegal behaviour and, changes in mood or behaviour. It also responds to the Chief Medical Officers’ change in low-risk drinking guidelines by re-establishing guidance relating to single-serve, non-resealable containers.

Following the change in the Code, we carried out an independent audit of the market which assessed consumer-facing products against the new version. The audit found the industry to be 95% compliant, a significant number highlighting the willingness of the industry to accept and embrace the Code. This confirmed a significant increase in compliance since   the previous audit, carried out in 2012, which delivered 92% compliance. The 29 products which were questioned were each reviewed and resolved with the appropriate resolution.

New Chair

The Independent Complaints Panel, which reviews complaints about products, is decisively independent. It strives to make decisions that will ensure the industry remains responsible, even in the face of new challenges and changes in the wider market.

In 2020 we said goodbye to Jenny Watson CBE as Chair of the Panel. For seven years, she presided over numerous decisions and worked under both the fifth and sixth editions of the Code. With Jenny’s tenure coming to an end, we welcomed Nicola Williams, an experienced barrister and ombudsman, as our new Chair. In her own words “I am conscious of the duty of the role and committed to being a part of the system that keeps the alcohol industry socially responsible within the context of a strong self-regulatory model.”

New decisions

The Panel reviewed 43 cases and upheld 58% of these. Included in their many decisions was the review of a complaint on alcohol sponsorship and the first regarding a press release. The Panel have seen a number of trends within the alcohol industry, notably the continued rise of nostalgia marketing, as they continue to handle numerous complaints on the issue of particular appeal to under-18s.

The report also delves into some of the complaints that have come about as a direct result of revisions made to the Code as part of the publication of the Code’s sixth edition. Crucially, this new edition brought about updates to the guidance surrounding immoderate consumption and included explicit protection of the vulnerable and a new rule preventing serious or widespread offence.

New Advice

Regardless of the size of producer, we are committed to working closely with them to ensure they understand the Codes and reflect this in the presentation and marketing of their products. This is done through free, confidential and impartial advice. In the period covered by the report, over 1,300 pieces of advice were issued, with over 1,200 people trained on the rules.

The value of this to the industry is demonstrated by the compliance shown in the audit results, as well as the continued commitment of our members and over 130 Code Signatories.

The three-year report spans this content and more. It gives an inside look into the workings of the Regulatory Affairs side of the Portman Group, as well as the Panel.

The work demonstrated in this report shows the continued effectiveness of the Code and the self-regulatory model within which the alcohol industry operates. Once again, the sector has shown a commitment to social responsibility and upholding the rules and guidelines set out by the Portman Group.

Download the report:

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