An Auckland-based public health department has slated UberEats for adding an "alcohol-on-demand" service to its app, branding the food delivery giant "irresponsible" and "out-of-touch".
On Tuesday, UberEats launched a new feature allowing alcohol to be delivered directly to the door via its popular app. From 10am to 10:30pm, Aucklanders are able to place their order from a selection of 30 liquor stores citywide. The brand-new service will also be expanded to Christchurch and Wellington in the coming weeks.
But Māori public health organisation Hāpai te Hauora is unimpressed with the latest addition to the ordering and delivery platform, pointing out the service only increases accessibility to alcohol.
"We see this move as totally irresponsible and out-of-touch from the realities of alcohol harm," Hāpai te Hauora CEO Selah Hart said on Thursday.
"But what's more telling is the invisibility of any protections in place - for minors, for communities, and ultimately to protect New Zealander's from alcohol harm."
UberEats has implemented some restrictions for the new service, including a limit on the amount of alcohol that can be ordered under New Zealand's legal requirements. The user must also verify their age when they register for an UberEats' account, place their order, and collect their alcohol from the delivery person. The customer must present a valid form of identification when their order arrives. The delivery person is then required to scan the document using the Uber Driver app to verify their age before completing the delivery.
Drivers are also able to refuse delivery if they can see the customer is visibly intoxicated. They will be paid to return the order to the store and a refund will be issued to the buyer.
The platform has also provided a function allowing users to exclude themselves from the service if alcohol is triggering to them. This enables the user to opt out of the feature on their UberEats app as well as related marketing emails.
But Hāpai te Hauora says the restrictions are not enough. The organisation is calling for urgent legislative change, arguing the on-demand service demonstrates the need for amendments to the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 - a law they say is outdated and does not reflect the current accessibility of alcohol.
"UberEats has found another way to capitalise on modern 'on-demand' culture. Ultimately we need our legislation and policy to be reflective of our ever changing world," Hart said.
"The most recent Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act is from 2012 and it is fair to say that this is no longer fit for purpose. Change is long overdue and needed right now."
The organisation is concerned a rise in alcohol delivery services may lead to an increase in alcohol-related harm due to increased accessibility.
Hāpai te Hauora general manager Janell Dymus-Kurei said the new service is "literally pedalling" alcohol into communities.
"It's already too easy for whānau to access alcohol, given the density of alcohol outlets in our communities," Kurei said.
"In addition to alcohol outlets being highly concentrated in areas where our whānau learn, live, play and work, whānau have to also contend with the tide of alcohol marketing."
In 2018, a study by the University of Otago and University of Auckland found Kiwi kids are exposed to alcohol-related advertising more than four times each day, both in the home and public venues.
The research also found Māori and Pasifika children were five and three times more likely to be exposed to alcohol-related marketing than New Zealand European kids, which drives the "substantial inequities in alcohol harm they experience", according to Hart.
Kurei also noted the "normalisation" of drinking in New Zealand plays a significant role in widespread alcohol consumption. The country's heavy drinking culture has long been a subject of scrutiny, with the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act implemented to help minimise harm and encourage safe, responsible consumption.
Statistics from the Ministry of Health's annual survey suggest adult alcohol consumption has dropped slightly, with 80.3 percent using alcohol in the past year - a 3.3 percent decrease. But use amongst Māori has barely budged, with a rise in women's consumption offsetting a drop in men - a trend also evident among Pasifika people.
People who identify as European/Other are New Zealand's biggest drinkers at 85.7 percent. However, Māori are far more likely to suffer health-related issues due to alcohol consumption. The rate of alcohol-related fatalities is disproportionately higher for Māori, with 34 deaths per 100,000 compared to 14 for non-Māori.
Data collected in 2017/2018 found one in two Māori men who consume alcohol and one in three Māori women who consume alcohol are considered hazardous drinkers, with two in five young adults also drinking hazardously.
In a statement to Newshub on Thursday, a spokesperson for UberEats said the safety and wellbeing of its users is its top priority and the company is committed to promoting "safe and sensible alcohol consumption".
"We include moderation messaging in all of our consumer communication and marketing and in our app, to ensure it is front of mind for consumers at the point of purchase," the spokesperson said.
"We encourage consumers to use the alcohol ordering feature in the app responsibly, at all times."
The spokesperson said Uber takes this new avenue "seriously".
"We have built-in new processes and in-app steps to help support delivery people in checking an individual's age and sobriety after a delivery person opts in to deliver alcohol," they reiterated.
The spokesperson also stressed that delivery drivers are provided with educational materials regarding responsible alcohol supply and local legal requirements before they can deliver alcohol.
The spokesperson said all marketing will be compliant with the Advertising Standards Authority's Alcohol Advertising and Promotion Code. The new guidelines, released in December, come into effect on April 1.