Bristol-Myers Squibb And The Secure The Future Foundation: A Genuine Act Of Corporate Social Responsibility?
In early February of 1999, apprehensive Yale University students frequented their campus’s newest building—an edifice many had angrily entitled the “Stavudine building,” since more than half the $176 million used to finance its construction came from Yale’s patent on the HIV/AIDS drug Stavudine.1 The timidity and resentment felt by campus inhabitants was not without cause; over six-hundred concerned students, researchers and professors had recently signed a petition condemning Yale Medical School for making countries in emergency situations, like those in Africa, pay full price for HIV/AIDS medications.1 2 Though the Yale population was infuriated with the University’s decisions regarding patent rights, their resentment was not reserved for Yale alone. Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), the pharmaceutical company that has shared Stavudine patent rights with Yale for almost ten years, was also a target.3 Together, Yale and Bristol-Myers Squibb were charged by social justice advocates with the following: vending Stavudine with a hefty price-tag.4 In a panicked response, brought on by the sight of this public outrage, Yale and Bristol-Myers Squibb played a sort of Hot Potato-each trying to hand the issue back to the other and divert responsibility before the controversy got too intense. As the community watched the clash between Yale and Bristol-Myers Squibb ensue, many believed the patent-partners had turned a deaf ear to the crisis. But Bristol-Myers Squibb was listening. In less than a month’s time, the company pledged substantial price cuts on its HIV/AIDS drugs and relinquished its patent on Stavudine, also known as d4t or Zerit, in African countries.5 With this historic decision, Bristol-Myers Squibb became the first major pharmaceutical company to ever allow its patent rights to be broken so countries in Africa could generically, that is, cheaply, manufacture certain HIV/AIDS drugs.6 The news of this development delighted the former protestors, though Bristol-Myers Squibb vowed to do still more for the AIDS crisis. The company devised a program to mitigate the HIV/AIDS pandemic currently overwhelming countries in Africa. The name of this program was called Secure the Future and is currently in its fourth year of service.7 The recent measures instituted by Bristol-Myers Squibb can be identified as acts of corporate social responsibility. In prestigious newspaper headlines and bold-faced editorials alike, these feats of social responsibility often incite enthusiasm and support for the corporation practicing them. However, as the Secure the Future’s five-year plan comes to an end, one is compelled to inquire about Bristol-Myers Squibb’s hefty social goals for HIV/AIDS in Africa; did the pharmaceutical company make a significant impact on the AIDS disaster in Africa? Thus far, has the relinquishing of the Stavudine patent, the price cutting of medications, and the Secure the Future foundation been a success? This thesis seeks to answer these questions by investigating the following: (1) the nature of corporate social responsibility and the aspirations of Bristol-Myers Squibb; (2) the HIV/AIDS situation in Africa; (3) the Secure the Future Foundation; (4) the audit system for corporate social responsibility; (5) the progress (or lack thereof) that has thus far been made in the affected countries. With the glum statistics of the spread of HIV, the acts of one pharmaceutical company cannot be expected to be a “cure-all.” However, for the sake of building mechanisms to handle future programs for alleviating the pandemic, the above analysis becomes imperative. It is therefore the fervent hope of this report that even the analysis of one program might bring to light more aspects of corporate social responsibility within the realm of the lucrative and critical business of pharmaceuticals.