The Washington Post reports that Dick’s Sporting Goods will no longer sell assault-style firearms, will ban high-capacity magazines and will not sell any guns to people younger than 21, the company announced Wednesday, a significant move for the retail giant in the midst of renewed calls for national gun reform. Chief executive Edward W. Stack made the announcement during an appearance on “Good Morning America”, as well as through a company statement that said “thoughts and prayers are not enough” in the wake of America’s latest mass shooting. Two weeks ago, a gunman killed 17 people, most of them teenagers, in Parkland, Fla., with an AR-15 that was legally purchased. The alleged shooter, Nikolas Cruz, bought a shotgun from a Dick’s store in November, Stack said during the television interview.
Bank of America Corp became the latest financial heavyweight to take aim at gunmakers, saying it would ask clients who make assault rifles how they can help end mass shootings like last week’s massacre at a Florida high school, writes Reuters. Bank of America, the second-biggest U.S. bank by assets, said its request to makers of the military-style weapons was in line with those taken by other financial industry companies to help prevent deadly gun rampages. “An immediate step we’re taking is to engage the limited number of clients we have that manufacture assault weapons for non-military use to understand what they can contribute to this shared responsibility,” the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank said in a statement.
Steve Lukes’ Three-Dimensional View of Power credit
The Global Burden of Disease estimates that approximately a third of deaths worldwide are attributable to behavioral risk factors that, at their core, have the consumption of unhealthful products and exposures produced by profit driven commercial entities, write Joana Madureira Lima and Sandro Galea in a new report in Globalization and Health. They use Steven Lukes’ three-dimensional view of power (see above) to guide the study of the practices deployed by commercial interests to foster the consumption of these commodities. They propose a framework to systematically study corporations and other commercial interests as a distal, structural, societal factor that causes disease and injury. Their framework offers a systematic approach to mapping corporate activity, allowing public health researchers to anticipate and prevent actions that may have a deleterious effect on population health. They conclude that their framework may be used by, and can have utility for, public health practitioners, researchers, students, activists and other members of civil society, policy makers and public servants in charge of policy implementation. It can also be useful to corporations who are interested in identifying key actions they can take towards improving population health.
In the last year, policy makers, the media and the public have focused new attention on the harmful practices of the pharmaceutical industry. This scrutiny provides an opportunity for health faculty, journalists and advocates to educate their students, readers and members about the near daily revelations around these practices and their policy solutions. Dividing these practices into specific categories, we have highlighted some of the industry’s egregious practices that have surfaced under society’s microscope. By engaging their constituencies in learning about harmful pharma industry practices and considering options for reducing such risks, health professionals and activists can lay the foundation for meaningful reform. By having our students read and critically analyze these sources, we prepare them to contribute to solutions.
Drug pricing has been a hot topic this year for both consumers and legislators. With as many as one in four of constituents reporting difficulty in paying for prescription medications, this issue has been brought to the forefront of American politics. For example, this past April, legislators in Maryland passed an Anti-Price-Gouging Law to protect its citizens and taxpayers from price increases within “…noncompetitive off-patent drug markets.” While this is a great first step for Maryland, there is still more to be done. This law does not affect specialty drug innovators or generic drug manufacturers. So specialty drugs like medications to treat cancer can still be priced exorbitantly high, much higher in fact than patients in the UK pay for the same medications.
If you are looking for more information on America’s fight against Big Pharma, consider watching Drug Short, a documentary in the Netflix Dirty Money video series that shows the rise and fall of Valeant Pharmaceuticals, led by a CEO who declared that his goal wasn’t to make new drugs but simply to “create stockholder value.”
Distribution of opioids
Another big ticket item taking the stage in American politics this year was the country’s current opioid epidemic and the role that pharmaceutical companies have played in the issue. A recent article from Reuters reported on a suit filed by Kentucky’s attorney general against drug distributor McKesson Corp. The suit claims that the distributor failed to flag large opioid orders being delivered different pharmacies in the state, fueling the current epidemic. While our country has seen a decrease in opioid prescriptions, according to a report from the CDC, the amount of currently prescribed opioids remains roughly three times the amount as was prescribed in 1999. What started off as a family business for the Sacklers, owners of Purdue Pharma and manufacturers of OxyContin, has generated billions of dollars for the family and company—and millions of addicts, as described in a recent New Yorker article.
Intellectual prosperity protections
Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, the AFL-CIO and about 100 other groups focused on health standards and workers’ rights are urging NAFTA negotiators not to use the intellectual property chapter of the trade agreement to protect pharmaceutical companies and jeopardize affordable access to medicine. “It is vital that the NAFTA party governments reject any provisions that would expand or strengthen pharmaceutical monopolies and enforcement at the expense of access to affordable medicines,” the groups wrote in a letter to the top health and trade ministers of the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
In recent years, we have seen more examples of pharmaceutical monopolies and the powers that they hold come to light. Drug manufacturers like Celgene Corp., the makers of the cancer drug Revlimid have been able to extend their patent exclusivity for decades. This is especially problematic for consumers as generic medications are not developed and price gouging occurs.
Safety & Regulations
American consumers and patients rely on the FDA to approve and monitor safe prescription medications and medical devices. It’s common to see drug warning labels updated with newer side-effect information or even a black box warning if potentially adverse side-effects are known. These black box warnings often warn consumers of serious side-effects, as in the case of the blood thinner Xarelto which lacks an approved antidote causing serious bleeding incidents which have led patients to file thousands of lawsuits. Sometimes, however, this warning can hurt the drug manufacturer more than it benefits the consumers as shown in the case of varenicline, a prescription medication used to treat nicotine addiction.
For a more in-depth look into the medical device industry, consider the new book, The Danger Within Us: America’s Untested, Unregulated Medical Device Industry and One Man’s Battle to Survive It, an investigation of the products, practices and regulation of the medical device industry in the United States.
Tax Avoidance and Tax Evasion
A report from Americans for Tax Fairness examines the profits, taxes, and drug prices of the 10 biggest U.S. pharmaceutical companies: Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Merck & Co., Gilead Sciences, AbbVie, Amgen, Eli Lilly & Co., Bristol-Myers Squibb, Biogen and Celgene. The Pharma Big 10 had $506 billion in untaxed profits stashed offshore in 2016. These profits increased by 65% from 2011, as drug prices soared. U.S. tax law allows companies to indefinitely delay paying federal taxes on profits booked and kept offshore. The new US tax law could offer these companies a tax cut of up to $80 billion.
The late January US budget deal that reopened the federal government included a two-year delay of a proposed 2.3 percent tax on medical devices, originally included in the Affordable Care Act to help pay for the law’s health insurance subsidies. Industry had been demanding relief from the tax for months. The two-year suspension will cost the federal government about $3.7 billion. Medical device companies cheered the legislation.
Caitlin Hoff is a Health and Safety Investigator, aiming to educate people about consumer rights, and industries that seek to diminish them. Nicholas Freudenberg is founder and director of Corporations and Health Watch.
Last month, Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, the nation’s largest asset manager, wrote in his annual letter to CEOs:
To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate. Without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential. It will ultimately lose the license to operate from key stakeholders. It will succumb to short-term pressures to distribute earnings, and, in the process, sacrifice investments in employee development, innovation, and capital expenditures that are necessary for long-term growth. It will remain exposed to activist campaigns that articulate a clearer goal, even if that goal serves only the shortest and narrowest of objectives. And ultimately, that company will provide subpar returns to the investors who depend on it to finance their retirement, home purchases, or higher education.
Fink’s argument that a social purpose was good for the corporate bottom line has attracted scrutiny from researchers as well as the media. A few recent studies illustrate the scope of this debate:
Researchers at the University of California San Francisco studied African media coverage of tobacco companies’ corporate social responsibility initiatives. Of the 288 news items they found, the majority relied solely on tobacco industry representatives as news sources, and portrayed tobacco industry CSR positively. When public health voices and tobacco control themes were included, news items were less likely to have a positive slant. They concluded that their finding suggests a foundation on which to build media advocacy efforts. Drawing links between implementing the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and prohibiting or curtailing tobacco industry CSR programs may result in more public dialogue in the media about the negative impacts of tobacco company CSR initiatives.
In Science, a research team based at City University of New York describes a study that an asset owner, an asset manager, and two research universities are designing. They are developing a next generation of traceable indicators to quantify external context and impact of investments on the environment and health and place these into a decision-making framework useful to investors. Tests of these science-based sustainability metrics are under way on a $2.1 billion portfolio of public equities invested on behalf of a large European pension fund.
Another study compared the appeal of a fast food company’s public health related corporate social responsibility message with a more generic social issue-related message. The generic message elicited significantly more positive perceptions of CSR motives, supportive communication intent and investment intent than public-health related CSR. However, when a company has a healthier image, stakeholders do not distinguish between health-related and other types of CSR messages. Researchers also found that positively perceived CSR motive plays a determinant role in anticipating communication, investment, and purchase- intents, reinforcing Fink’s message that at least perceived CSR can contribute to the bottom line.
Once again, new revelations about the illegal and deceptive practices of German car makers Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW attract media and public scrutiny. A few recent highlights:
Fortune reported that “Volkswagen’s CEO said he was ‘stunned’ by reports the carmaker had sponsored tests that exposed monkeys and humans to toxic diesel fumes and two years after an emissions cheating scandal, pledged once again to get to the bottom of the wrongdoing. Europe’s largest automaker has come under fresh scrutiny after the New York Times said last week that Volkswagen and German peers BMW and Daimler funded an organization called European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT) to commission the tests. The report came more than two years after VW admitted to cheating U.S. diesel emissions tests, sparking the biggest business crisis in its history, and pledged sweeping changes to ensure such misconduct never happened again.
The New York Times reported that in 2014 scientists in an Albuquerque laboratory conducted an unusual experiment: Ten monkeys squatted in airtight chambers, watching cartoons for entertainment as they inhaled fumes from a diesel Volkswagen Beetle. The details of the Albuquerque experiment have been disclosed in a lawsuit brought against Volkswagen in the United States, offering a rare window into the world of industry-backed academic research. The organization that commissioned the study, the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector, received all of its funding from Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW. It shut down last year amid controversy over its work. It also produced a skeptical assessment of data showing that diesel pollution far exceeded permitted levels in cities like Barcelona, Spain.
According to The Washington Post, the study by the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT) was never published, and the research institute overseeing it has since been dissolved. All three carmakers involved in the study — Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen — distanced themselves from the research after the studies were disclosed. But the research institute behind the controversial tests on monkeys was founded by Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen and automotive components supplier Bosch, which has raised questions over the extent to which experiments with humans was backed by the three major carmakers, too.
Another account of the VW diesel emissions is featured on a new Netflix series “Dirty Money” an investigative series that exposes “brazen acts of corporate corruption and greed.” The first episode, Hard NOx, examines the VW deception on emissions.
Eighty two percent of the wealth generated last year went to the richest 1% of the global population, while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth, according to a new Oxfam report released at the World Economic Forum. Billionaire wealth has risen by an annual average of 13% since 2010 – six times faster than the wages of ordinary workers, which have risen by a yearly average of just 2%. The number of billionaires rose at a rate of one every two days between March 2016 and March 2017. This huge increase could have ended global extreme poverty seven times over.