The assessment will evaluate efforts intended to address the harm associated with tobacco use in communities of color and youth.
RICHMOND, Va. — Altria Group Inc. is conducting an equity and civil rights assessment to address feedback received from recent 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," the company stated.
Consistent with prior commitments and efforts in these areas, the audit will review Altria's policies, practices, programs and services intended to address the harm associated with tobacco use and the effectiveness of the company's harm reduction efforts. These include underage tobacco use prevention programs, tobacco cessation support, responsible marketing practices, and regulatory engagement and public policy.
Additionally, the assessment will evaluate these efforts in communities of color and youth, as well as Altria's inclusion, diversity and equity (ID&E) progress.
Altria's board of directors has authorized the audit, which will be led by the company and overseen by an external advisory review board consisting of third-party, independent members who have 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 audit, 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," Altria stated.
According to the company, the design of the equity and civil rights assessment:
Takes into consideration emerging practices for these types of audits, potential risks and the potential benefits to Altria and shareholders from the audit as the company pursues its vision.
Considers mitigating litigation risk while including extensive third-party perspective and oversight because the topics raised in the shareholder proposal are subject to active and pending litigation involving our companies' tobacco products.
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," the company stated.
In the second half of 2022, Altria contacted its top 30 shareholders, which represent approximately 43 percent of the company's outstanding shares, to ask their views concerning the requested civil rights equity audit and its proposed approach to conducting the assessment.
Altria plans to post report discussing the results of the assessment within approximately 12 months from when the company begins the audit on altria.com.
Richmond-based Altria's "Vision by 2030" is to responsibly lead the transition of adult smokers to a smoke-free future. The company is "Moving Beyond Smoking," leading the way in moving adult smokers away from cigarettes by taking action to transition millions to potentially less harmful choices.
The company's wholly owned subsidiaries include Philip Morris USA Inc. and John Middleton Co. Its smoke-free portfolio includes ownership of U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. LLC and Helix Innovations LLC.
Additionally, Altria has a majority-owned joint venture, Horizon Innovations LLC, and, through a separate agreement, has the exclusive U.S. commercialization rights to the IQOS Tobacco Heating System and Marlboro HeatSticks through April 2024.
Equity investments include Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, Cronos Group Inc. and Juul Labs Inc.
The brand portfolios of Altria's tobacco operating companies include Marlboro, Black & Mild, Copenhagen, Skoal and on!.