Interview with Socheata SAROEUN, Regulatory Affairs Manager at JTI

This week, we interviewed Socheata SAROEUN, Regulatory Affairs Manager at JTI Cambodia. Ms. SAROEUN is approaching her seventh anniversary with the company, which has grown from a humble representative office to an operation employing almost 500 people with headquarters at GIA Tower on Koh Pich. We spoke about the balance between business and health concerns over tobacco, the changing regulatory environment, illicit trade, and the importance of giving back to the community. Read on to learn about Socheata's uniquely important role to the company and how the team approaches some of the challenges faced by tobacco companies in Cambodia.

EuroCham: Could you introduce us quickly to yourself and what role you play at JTI?

Socheata: My name is Socheata SAROEUN. I am a Regulatory Affairs Manager under the Corporate Affairs and Communications Department of JTI. My role is to ensure a favourable operating environment for the business through developing and implementing the corporate affairs and communication strategy, stakeholder engagement, and government relations.

EuroCham: How long has JTI been active in Cambodia and how does it contribute to the local community?

Socheata: Our products have been available in Cambodia for many years already, but JTI first appeared in Cambodia in 2008 as a representative office, became a full-service entity at the end of 2016, and transited to Direct Selling Operation (DSO) in 2019.

JTI has contributed to the local community through implementing community investment projects. We have launched several projects to help vulnerable communities such as Safety for All, Home Sweet Home, and PASSA, a flood relief project. For the Home Sweet Home project, we teamed up with local NGOs to provide vocational training on agriculture and livestock farming to migrant workers who were forced to return to Cambodia because of the pandemic. The Safety for All project helped disabled people access information related to hygiene and prevention during the pandemic.

Significantly, there are two impactful community investment projects that we have been rolling out since last year.

First is the Clean Water project, where JTI is collaborating with Wildlife Alliance to install eight solar water wells in seven villages surrounding the Cardamom Mountains. It significantly contributes to the Southern Cardamom REDD+ project which protects more than 40,000 hectares of tropical rainforest in southwest Cambodia.

Another part of the Clean Water project is providing pure drinking water to the community where JTI partnered with the Planet Water Foundation to enhance rural community development by installing four water filtration systems called Aqua Towers. The four Aqua Towers, located in Kampong Cham, Preah Sihanouk, and Siem Reap provinces, can provide clean drinking to more than 40,000 people. 

JTI has also partnered with non-government organisations and the Royal Government of Cambodia to install around 12,000 solar street lights in Kampong Cham, Ratanakiri, Prey Veng, Koh Kong, Kampong Speu, and Battambang.

These projects not only help the local communities and the environment but also brings our employees closer to the community through volunteering.

EuroCham: How does JTI balance its business goals with the health concerns associated with smoking tobacco?

Socheata: JTI balances its business goals with health concerns by being one of the most respectful and responsible tobacco companies in the world. We create fulfilling moments and make a better future for our consumers as we believe in the freedom of adults to choose while sticking to our core principles: Openness about the risks of smoking, Reduced Risk-Products, Transparency about our products, Youth access prevention, Accommodating smoker and non-smokers, and Respectful for local norms and cultures.

JTI recognizes that cigarettes are a legal but controversial product. People smoke for pleasure but there are real risks that come with that pleasure. Accordingly, JTI believes that tobacco products should be appropriately regulated. JTI also believes in the freedom of adults to choose whether they want to smoke and that no one should smoke unless he or she understands the risks of doing so. These risks distinguish tobacco from most consumer goods, and they place upon the industry a real responsibility. It's a responsibility for which JTI expects to be held accountable, together with governments and the rest of society.

EuroCham: Cambodia does suffer from illicit and parallel imports of tobacco products. Does this affect your work?

Socheata: Yes, it does. It is also part of my job, my department and JTI’s commitment to join with the government to combat illicit trade and improve enforcement.

Illegal trade cheats everyone: governments, society, consumers, and legitimate businesses. It robs the government of tax revenues, harms hard-working retailers, and invites organised crime into communities. By avoiding the regulations that govern the legitimate tobacco trade, illegal tobacco also falls into the hands of young people much more easily.

Globally, JTI has invested hundreds of millions of dollars and developed various initiatives to support the fight against illegal tobacco. We support law enforcement agencies all over the world through training programmes that help police and customs officers differentiate genuine from fake cigarettes.

In Cambodia, the whole CA&C (Corporate Affairs and Communication) team and I work closely with the relevant stakeholders and in cooperation with the Royal Government of Cambodia to combat illicit trade through illicit trade reporting, training and workshops, and illicit trade surveys.

EuroCham: JTI is very active in CSR initiatives. Could you tell us about JTI’s New Ways of Working and how JTI pushes for an inclusive, gender-balanced workplace? Additionally, how does JTI measure the effectiveness and success of its CSR endeavours?

Socheata: Our New Ways of Working initiative – we call it NWOW -- allows employees to have a 50-50 hybrid model between office and remote working, flexible core hours, and the option to work from abroad 10 days per year. NWOW is our way to boost flexibility in the workplace. We want to make it easier for employees to work in a manner and at a time that suits them. At JTI, we believe in the advantage created by combining moments of collaboration and connectivity with moments of focus and remoteness. This balance generates true belonging and improved creativity, leaving our people the freedom to choose within the agreed framework.

At JTI, we believe in freedom, freedom to choose, freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom to be yourself. We are building an inclusive organisation through an unwavering commitment that cascades from the very top to all of JTI’s leaders and teams around the world. JTI has established a very clear strategic framework to accompany every single one of our operations. This will drive the creation of an environment that nurtures all diversity and offers people equal opportunities. We’ve created an environment where everyone can feel safe and encouraged to contribute their best.

As mentioned earlier, we contribute to the communities where we operate, and we are committing to addressing their social and environmental challenges. Our community investment contributions are meaningful, voluntary, and outside our commercial operation and we never expect anything in return. Our investment is intended to make a positive difference to the communities where we operate. Our community investment programme also contributes to the United National Sustainable Development Goal: Reduced Inequalities, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Life on Land, and Partnership for Goals. Therefore, the success of our community investment is making our community inclusive and resilient.

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