Leading alcohol producers under TABBA join with online alcohol retailers to announce Code of Conduct for online alcoholic beverage sales

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The Thai Alcoholic Beverage Business Association (TABBA) and online alcohol retail businesses, today announced ‘Code of Conduct for Sales of Alcoholic Beverages through Electronic Methods’ – best-practice guidelines for online retailers. With this Code of Conduct, the association is urging the government to reconsider the prohibition of alcoholic beverage sales online, which will come into effect on 7th December 2020. TABBA suggests that a complete ban on online alcohol sales will not only fail to prevent underage drinking and harm the Thai economy (which is already severely damaged by the pandemic) but also goes against the government’s own stated goal of promoting the digital economy and the current social distancing policy. With this in mind, the association has launched its own Code of Conduct as a self-regulation initiative to ensure that alcohol retailers follow measures to prevent underage access to alcohol online.

The Code of Conduct, which has been agreed upon by TABBA members and online retailers such as Liq9.asia and Wine-Now.asia emphasizes that the industry has solid standard guidelines for online sales to ensure that such sales are only made to those of legal age and discourages any kind of alcohol abuse, while promoting ethical business practices and societal responsibility of business operators. This Code of Conduct has been drafted based on a study of international best practices such as those in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Australia. The guidelines extensively address multiple issues involved with online alcohol sales: the qualification of retailer and purchaser, delivery, qualification of recipient, place of delivery, data verification and traceability, and training.

The representative from TABBA said: “The pandemic has greatly affected the alcoholic beverage industry. Many pubs, bars, and restaurants operations’ have slowed following the lockdown and social distancing measures. The online alcohol sales ban will only weaken the industry’s ability to recover, and the larger Thai economy to bounce back from this recession. Additionally, the decision to ban online alcohol sales is not in line with the Thai Government’s focus on driving the development of the digital economy. It certainly does not align with the market and current consumer behaviour, where consumers are shifting toward e-commerce and e-services. An online alcohol sales ban would only hurt businesses that are already struggling to survive due to the pandemic and earlier lockdown, and online trading actually helps in a situation where people are still practicing social distancing. The government should talk with the private sector and consider partnering with retailers to seek out how to best regulate online alcoholic beverage sales.”

One representative from Liq9.asia and WineNow.asia alcoholic beverage e-commerce platforms said: “Our business operates entirely online as we aim to respond to consumer demand for online shopping and service. A total ban would further aggravate businesses that have yet to recover from COVID-19. It would force us to close our business and lead to job losses. Our investment would go to waste. We are urging the government to rethink this online alcohol sales prohibition and work with businesses to set balanced measures that respond to both business and healthcare policy. More appropriate measures will allow small and legitimate businesses to thrive, while preventing underage access to alcohol and ensuring that the law governing sales days and time restrictions is followed effectively. We also encourage the government to urgently resolve the problem of smuggled goods and counterfeit products, which harm consumers’ health and lead to losses in government revenue.”

The proposed ban will lead to many negative impacts. First, small businesses might have to close, resulting in monopolistic and illegal businesses taking advantage of the situation. Second, the government will be deprived of lost excise revenue. Third, consumers might resort to illegal sources of alcohol – risking their health. Finally, the alcoholic beverage industry will not be able to adapt to digital advancement.

“The key rationale given for online alcohol sales prohibition is to prevent underage access to alcohol. However, this excessive measure does not seem to be to restrict online alcohol sales, but rather to eliminate them altogether. In reality, minors are still able to acquire alcohol offline, whereas buyers’ information, transaction and even delivery details can be traced back when alcohol is sold online. The problem, therefore, is not online alcohol sales, but the efficiency of law enforcement to prevent underage drinking.” The representative from TABBA concluded.

For further information, the full version of ‘Code of Conduct for Sales of Alcoholic Beverages through Electronic Methods’ can be found at the TABBA website: www.tabba.in.th