Corporate (anti) social responsibility
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is in the news quite a bit this week. But is it a duck or a rabbit? Or, to be less vague, are the number of ‘anomalies’ stacking up against CSR (the ‘duck’) so persuasive that we can’t really say it’s a duck any more; that we have to conclude that, really, CSR is actually Corporate Anti-Social Responsibility (CASR) and, as such, a rabbit?
Of course, I’m talking about Thomas Kuhn and paradigm shifts, but would that have got you this far? When you look at the duck/rabbit picture to the left, what do you see? Here are some examples that, I hope, will encourage you to see CSR in a different light.
The EU_India free trade agreement. The quite excellent Stephen Lewis of AIDS Free World has been been speaking his mind about CSR recently. I’ve blogged about Stephen before (see here), but here’s what he has to say about the EU-India trade agreement:
“However, let me end with one of the most offensive current international examples of how multinational corporations can actually make a fetish of irresponsibility, regardless the potentially catastrophic human consequences”.
What’s the deal with the EU-India free trade agreement (FTA)? You can follow the various campaigns against it by MSF (which buys 80% of its drugs from India generic companies), Oxfam, and UNITAID here, here, and here, read Sarah Boseley’s Guardian piece on it here, and get updates on the ‘don’t trade our lives away’ blog here (the photo to the left is from their site). In brief, if the EU-Indian government FTA goes ahead, Indian generic drug manufacturers will be prevented from making cheap copies of more expensive drugs manufactured by Western pharmaceutical companies. Last week the EU held a summit in New delhi to discuss progress but the spotlight is on the extent to which ‘Big Pharma’ - through its powerful army of lobbyists – has influenced the negotiations, which have been – and continue to be – done behind closed doors.
The EU’s Karel de Gucht assures us that: “nothing in this agreement should undermine India’s capacity to produce and export essential medicines for domestic use or other developing countries in need. And I would like to reassure you that I remain fully attached to this commitment”.
Nevertheless, the South African Treatment Action Campaign is concerned that if the negotiations are successful: “‘data exclusivity’…will delay the registration of generic medicines; investment rules…will allow multinational companies to sue the Indian government for implementing pro-health policies, and intellectual property enforcement measures…will block legitimate medicines from leaving India on their way to patients in other developing countries.”
Novartis in India. From the general to the specific and the ongoing battle between corporately socially responsible Novartis and, well, everyone else. This dispute has been festering for a few years now but is in the news again now because Novartis is resuming its challenge to part of India’s patent laws, taking India to the Supreme Court (!) on the 28th Feb. Again, MSF’s access campaign has all the gen on this, but in brief Novartis wants its patent on the cancer drug Glivec to be recognised in India. Previously, Novartis’ claim has been rejected by the Indian courts on the grounds that the drug wasn’t new or innovative (see MSF’s fact sheet on this), but Novartis is trying again (see Novartis’ fact sheet on this).
Does it matter? Well, yes, if you’re one of the Indian poor who currently buys Glivec at a cost of $200 per month and could face charges ten times that if Novartis is successful (the cost of Glivec in countries where it is under patent). But, more generally, as MSF argue:
“If Novartis won the case, patents would be granted in India as broadly as they are in wealthy countries and on new formulations of known medicines already in use. India would no longer be able to supply much of the developing world with quality affordable medicines”.
So, maybe it’s time for us to take a good hard look at corporate social responsibility. Of course, it’s not just pharmaceutical industry lobbyists influencing so-called ‘free’ trade agreements that makes one wonder about CSR. The issues extends to private consultancy companies drafting NHS policy documents, resistance to government attempts to introduce socially responsible health pricing on alcohol, not to mention a swathe of environmentally polluting activities – notably the exploration and extraction industry. I attended a presentation on global health and the extraction industry recently by a prominent Italian EE company and the complete failure by presenter and audience to join the dots between global environmental hazard and the actions of this MNC was simply breathtaking.
So the question is, when you think of corporations and the idea that they could, and do, act socially responsibly, do you see a duck or a rabbit?
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