The Merck and River Blindness Case
The Merck company has a tough decision to make in regards to the research and development to bring such a drug to market, once on the market there really isn’t any guarantee of much income let alone profit from this given the market. I think the scope of the entire company is very important here, across the board how is the company doing year in and year out. If profits are rolling and the company is making plenty elsewhere to support such an endeavor they should consider it given what their founding chairman said “We try never to forget that medicine is for people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered that, the larger they have been.” (Trevino, 2014) The company as a whole may be able to be philanthropic with this drug if the three sectors below it, Economic, legal and ethical are in check, according to the corporate social responsibility pyramid. (Carroll, 1991)
The first thing to look at is all of the possible stakeholders in this dilemma. The first people I’d look at are the shareholders, owners and board members associated with the company. They may not all see eye to eye on the philanthropic ability of the company, or more bluntly put, they may not care to be philanthropic at all and are solely concerned about the almighty dollar. Which is fine because it is their right and job to do exactly that, make a profit. Next would be the hundreds of thousands of people in the countries with this “blindness” disease that have virtually no income to pay for the drug or treatment. The United States government (politicians, lawmakers, etc.) could be another stakeholder as helping these countries could improve foreign relations. The scientists researching this drug could have a stake in this if they simply wanted to do something to better the lives of the impoverished.
As I alluded to in my opening, the Merck company needs to make sure that the corporate responsibility pyramid is followed as a guideline. Economically I am unsure where they stand, but with 2 billion in sales and 200 million committed to research I would venture a guess that they are economically sound. Without the financial viability everything else is for not. Legally I think that this research would be completely fine and the company seems to have the interest of its consumers at its core, or we are lead to believe that. Ethically I think that this decision is a win, if they follow through on researching a cure for the disease. With all other things in check, philanthropically they should be fine to start research and help the impoverished citizens suffering. (Carroll, 1991)
I think that proceeding with the research and development of this drug definitely follows the principles of profit laid out from the founding chairman of the company. Without knowing the numbers and assuming they are a fairly profitable business from the creation of the four drugs they initially had, I am sure that it fits their organizational values as well. I think the downfall of very successful and great companies comes when morals get swapped solely profit as the goal. Good public relations are the key, even if it is with people you may never earn a dime from. Doing it simply because it is the right or a very kind gesture definitely gets noticed by many other possible share and stake holders in the company.
If the development failed and hundreds of millions of dollars are gone, I think that it is definitely justifiable. The goal was to help hundreds of thousands of people, possibly millions now, that otherwise have to live with such a disease. You never know what else could be discovered in the research of this drug that may help cure or treat another ailment in the world. I think it’s also something you consider as a big step in terms of leadership and how you want to lead the scientists that work for you. It speaks volumes about your company if you want to help people and do the right thing. If the Merck company would decide to not proceed with the research and development of this drug I fear it would send a message to the stakeholders that profit is the only goal they have. There isn’t any loyalty in profit if the people that work for you are working for something other than money, like making a positive impact on the world and making lives easier.
If I had to make a decision on whether or not to go forward with the research and development on this drug I would choose to do it provided the company was economically sound, as well as legally and ethically proceeding would be alright. I think moving forward with this would show my employees that I was focused on exactly what our core values are, helping people with medicine. It’s not always about making a profit; sometimes you’ve made enough money. Doing the right thing has its ways of opening doors you didn’t think could be opened, changing the impression you’ve made on people or the perception people may have of you already.
Stating these opinions publicly could not hurt the company in terms of PR one bit, it could only help our image as a corporation. The old saying is “there is no such thing as bad publicity” and I have to agree. Perception is so different amongst people that you’ll most always appeal to one group or another. I don’t see this as something you do for good public relations but more as something you know you should do for people because you can do it, simple as that. CVS’ recent pull of all tobacco products from their shelves struck me as a stunt to create a stir in the media, free advertising if nothing else. Sure enough, it worked for them. The social media buzz around it gave them a solid 3-4 days of free advertising.
Carroll, A. B. (1991). The Pyramid of Corporte Social Responsibility: Toward the Moral Management of Organization Stakeholders. Business Horizons.
Trevino, L. K. (2014). Managing Business Ethics. Hobokan, New Jersey: Wiley Brothers.