Heineken, which is brewed in the Netherlands, is one of the most popular and widely available beers in Africa today. That ubiquity masks a darker story. Van Beemen traces the company’s unscrupulous opportunism in establishing a dominant presence in Africa. He catalogs the firm’s objectionable practices, which have included supporting the apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1960s and various authoritarian governments in more recent years and using young women called “promotion girls,” who are often subjected to sexual harassment by clients and even by Heineken staff, to sell the beer. Van Beemen’s revelations caused a scandal in the Netherlands when the book first appeared, but most of his findings were wholly predictable. The book is more interesting when it describes the flexible management practices that allowed the company to function in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone at times when state authority there was extremely weak. The company’s success also stems from its ability to charge relatively high prices in Africa thanks to the beer’s reputation as a prestige product; since its production costs are low on the continent, Heineken enjoys profit margins in Africa that are higher than elsewhere.
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