The pharmaceutical industry has been weathering public controversies for decades, not only in dealing with damage control on countless patents that are either proven to be ineffective or dangerous, but also with the crushing cost of their drugs in developing countries. This last point has been painfully obvious with anti-malarial agents and HIV treatment; both are usually priced far beyond the means of those that most desperately need them.
Now things are beginning to look better. The BBC recently reported that Britain’s drug giant, GlaxoSmithKline, is radically changing tack and joining the much-needed philanthropic drive to save the lives of millions in Africa by joining forces with prominent charities like Save the Children. This is great news, and it’s about time. Both organizations have been at loggerheads for quite awhile; Save the Children’s chief executive, Justin Forsyth, even admitted “that he used to picket GlaxoSmithKline over that controversy (of high HIV drug prices)… Now, though, he thinks this particular drug giant has reformed itself under the leadership of Sir Andrew Witty.” It would be heartless to assume that this was just a PR stunt on the part of GSK (although they have incurred a spate of very public and embarrassing lawsuits lately), but it really doesn’t matter why their attitude has changed. It’s probably more to do with modernity – the reality is that companies of every stripe need to be cognizant of ethics regarding their profits; we are in a different age of consciousness and conscientiousness, and it’s time for more transparency in every facet of business practices – the public demands it.
It’s not that surprising that we may be witnessing a new era of morality in business – stretching far beyond the spectrum of the financial sector, oil companies and now the pharmaceutical industry. Without a clear, desirable connection to customers, any brand or business is now in jeopardy; profit motive is not enough for this generation of consumers or businesses.