Ethics Hero, Corporate Division: Merck

Sometimes, though their implacable foes would refuse to acknowledge it, big corporations do the right thing even without a metaphorical gun at their heads. This week’s Economist magazine relates an amazing example that the public needs to know about, especially since it challenges popular stereotypes about Big Pharma.

The Economist begins by horrifying us with a deadly aspect of life in third world countries that are hot and wet: “neglected tropical diseases,” or NTDs. These are neglected because the populations that suffer from them are poor and far away, but they affect more than a billion people. Among the scourges, all parasitic, are Buruli ulcer, Chagas disease, guinea-worm disease, leishmaniasis, river blindness, trachoma and yaws. There are 18 pernicious maladies currently listed as NTSs.

In the 1970s, mega-pharmaceutical firm Merck developed the drug ivermectin after tests on animals with parasitic infections. William Campbell, one of the firm’s parasitologists,told company executives that the new drug might be effective against the parasite that caused onchocerciasis, or river blindness, which  afflicts populations in in parts of Africa, Latin America, and  Yemen.  He was given the green light to find out.

The first human trial of ivermectin as treatment for river blindness took place in Senegal in 1981, on patients who had the early stages of the disease—itching, rashes— but no damage to their eyes yet. The results were encouraging,  indicating that ivermectin was safe for humans and highly effective at stopping the disease before it blinded its victims.  Merck, however, now faced the problem that has impeded cures for all the neglected tropical diseases: those who needed ivermectin were too poor to buy it, and so were the nations where they lived. Big corporations are not charities; they have investors, stockholders and a bottom line. They are not accustomed or programmed to give away their products.

Yet Merck made a corporate decision that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren say is impossible. Starting in 1987, it made an open-ended commitment to distribute as much ivermectin as was needed to eradicate the river blindness worldwide. In the next ten years, it swallowed the cost of 100 million doses. Continue reading

Burger King Ethics: What’s Unethical About Burger King’s “Tax Inversion” (And It’s Not Burger King)

BKAs you may have heard by now, Burger King is preparing to merge with the larger Canadian equivilent of Dunkin Donuts, Tim Hortons and move the company’s headquarters to Canada. As with the proposed Walgreens move to Europe that was considered and ultimately rejected, the Burger King merger was made for tax reasons, and good ones. The good ones should be clearly explained to the American public, especially voters and those with unemployed workers in their families, but they are not. Let’s  call this BK Ethics Foul #1: news media incompetence. Because the public doesn’t understand what “tax inversion” means, they are vulnerable to having it distorted and demagogued for them by unethical politicians and pundits, and so it has been. Let us designate this BK Ethics Foul #2: the anti-corporate disinformation campaign.

The United States tax rate is  a whopping 35%, more than any other large industrial nation, even more than those that tend toward socialism. There’s nothing unethical about this, necessarily, though it can be argued that it is a foolish and self-destructive policy. Did you know, however—and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t, because not being an international corporation myself, I didn’t know until this issue arose—that the U.S. applies that tax to all global earnings of U.S. companies. This means that the earning of U.S. companies doing business abroad are not only taxed where they earn the profits, but also in the U.S., or as this is technically called, twice. (UPDATE: I should have made it clear that the the US does give a foreign tax credit for the money paid in taxes abroad, so the effect is not completely double tax, just two taxes.) That is definitely unfair (and also bad policy), and will be called BK Ethics Foul #3: predatory taxation Continue reading

Why The Winooski Bacon Controversy Matters

bacon signLast week, Sneakers Bistro and Cafe in Winooski, Vermont removed a sign reading “Yield for Sneakers Bacon” from a garden at the Winooski Rotary after a woman who described herself as “a vegan and a member of a Muslim household” called the sign offensive in an online post.

“Given the large number of Muslim families in Winooski, as well as many others who do not eat pork for a variety of reasons, it seems unnecessary for this insensitive business sign to be at the city’s main crosswalk,” she wrote. Sneakers, obeying the growing U.S. cultural mandate that any individual has a veto over words and conduct that he or she finds offensive regardless of 1) whether it is offensive to anyone else and 2) whether the alleged offense is certifiably bats, apologized, and took the sign down.

I am happy to support that this decision did not play well, even in ultra-liberal Vermont, and under a barrage of criticism on the web and elsewhere, the Sneakers’ management posted the following message on its Facebook page, thus making their situation worse:

“We are here to serve people BREAKFAST, not politics. We removed the sign that was located on public property as a gesture of respect for our diverse community. There were also concerns raised about safety. Removing it was not a difficult decision. We still love bacon. We still love eggs. Please have the political conversation elsewhere.”

That idiotic statement was the disaster anyone conscious should have been able to predict it would be. And let’s be thankful this is still true. Tomorrow, Sneakers’ response may be standard operation procedure, even if ISIS doesn’t take over the country while the President is breaking par. Continue reading

Comment of the Day on “Ethics Bob Opens An Ethics Can of Worms…”

Chase Martinez enters the debate on the ethics of Nike’s labor practices abroad, raised by a post by Bob Stone on his blog, and explicated here with some business ethics questions that have long perplexed both critics and advocates of American capitalism.Here is his Comment of the Day:

“The company has a duty to make money.”

“I think what is unethical is consumers abdicating their ethical duty to make informed choices. In big business, “everybody does it” is self-propagating because there is no consumer pressure to be better than your competition. The “free market” assumes an informed consumer-base that punishes companies who disagree with their values by taking their business to those that do. This doesn’t happen, and while some fault lies with companies for using the EBDI rationalization, most, I think, lies with consumers for being apathetic. As long as American consumers don’t care about Chinese peasants working for a dollar a day because they don’t know any better, corporations like Nike have no reason to care.”

Is Corporate Philanthropy Unethical? No, But It’s Important to Ask the Question

I gather not very many readers sample the links on Ethics Alarms, which is a shame. They contain a lot of different approaches to ethical issues, from many philosophical approaches. Well, heck…I use them , which is really what they are here for. One of the more original thinkers represented among the various sites is Jason Christopher Cockrell, author of The Worst-Case Scenario. It appears that he has abandoned blogging, which is a shame, but his last post, at the end of 2010, was full of surprises. In it, he offered an argument against corporate charity, something I have never heard anyone criticize on any level, except to say that there isn’t enough of it.

The theory behind corporate philanthropy is that it is a win-win for everyone involved. The corporation enhances its public reputation and visibility, improving employee moral and making investors proud to hold stock. Society benefits from substantial contributions that support everything from cancer research to Sesame Street to regional theater. It is hard to imagine what the charitable landscape would look like without corporate philanthropy, but the thought of eliminating it is sufficient to give any professional fundraiser hives. I know—both I and my wife were development officers for many years. Continue reading

“Give Back” Ethics

Excellent! But is he giving, or "giving back"?

John Stossel, the ABC house conservative who yielded to the inevitable and finally migrated to Fox News, takes issue with what he sees as corporate America’s capitulating to the distorting rhetoric of capitalism-bashing. On his website, Stossel cites with approval this letter, sent by George Mason University  Economics Professor Don Boudreaux to the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain:

“Dear Ritz-Carlton:

“Thanks for your e-mail celebrating your and your employees’ participation in “Give Back Getaways” – activities in which you and your employees (along with some of your customers) “give back to the community.”

“Have you taken something that doesn’t belong to you?  If so, by all means give it back!…If, though, you’ve not taken anything that doesn’t belong to you, you possess nothing that you can give BACK. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Fox

Now if you want to see a mad prophet on TV, you'll have to watch "Network." Thank you Rupert, Roger, Fox!

The Fox network, in ending its relationship with Glenn Beck after the expiration of his current contract as it announced yesterday, placed principle over profit. In today’s culture particularly, that is always a welcome development, an ethical one, and deserving of praise.

I can comfortably assign Fox Ethics Hero status and discount the braying from partisan Beck-haters like Media Matters, the shamelessly one-sided “media watchdog” that has declared “war” on Fox because it dares to deliver news from a generally conservative perspective. Beck was not brought down by their attacks, or by the boycotts against him by various interest groups. His show was still one of the most watched current events programs on cable, and Fox was still making money on it. The demise of Glenn Beck’s Fox show was not an example of successful suppression of conservative opinion by the Left. Continue reading

Hey…Were the Gang Rapists of the 11-Year-Old Girl in Texas Abercrombie and Fitch Executives?

 

"And to think..our little girl is only eight!"

Well, no.

 

But since Abercrombie and Fitch is apparently eager to make its profits by turning little girls into 3-D child porn, this isn’t as unfair a question as it seems.

One of America’s largest clothing retail chains, Abercrombie & Fitch is marketing padded bikini tops to eleven-year-old girls…in fact, girls as young as eight.

The current spring line for Abercrombie Kids, a division of the fashion company dedicated to 8-14 year olds, is the “Ashley” Push-Up Triangle – a triangular-shaped bikini top which comes complete with thick padding for breast enhancement. And you thought Wal-Mart marketing cosmetics to twelve-year-olds was ominous. Continue reading

Marketing the Glock and Corporate Social Responsibility

Dr. Chris MacDonald has a thoughtful post on this topic on the always excellent Business Ethics Blog. “The social benefits of selling handguns may be fundamentally contentious; in other words, reasonable people can agree to disagree,” he writes. “But I doubt that the same can really be said for marketing moves designed, for example, to foster the sale of high-capacity magazines (ones that hold 33 bullets instead of the usual 17).”

You can read the whole article here.

Breach of Duty: Hallmark Capitulates to the Race Card

Every time an individual or a corporation meekly submits to the demands of  bullies, it harms the rest of society by giving that bully more power and credibility. It doesn’t matter if the bullies are jihad-minded Islamic extremists threatening the creators of “South Park,” an extortion-minded Congresswoman threatening NBC of dire consequences if it doesn’t start meeting her racial quotas, or a schoolyard bully intent on stealing lunch money. Give a bullies what they want, and they will continue to abuse their power until someone else does his or her ethical duty, which is to confront bullying and stop it. I call this “The Duty to Confront,” and it is a responsibility of citizenship and being a member of society. Corporations will hold symposiums and issue bold words about their commitment to good citizenship and corporate responsibility, but when it comes to a citizen’s duty to oppose bullies, they are worse than the meekest. weakest wimp in the school yard. Exhibit A:  the disgraceful example of Hallmark, which has capitulated to the N.A.A.C.P.’s most ridiculous and embarrassing accusation of racism yet, which is quite an accomplishment. Continue reading