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Corporate social responsibility in global health: an exploratory study of multinational pharmaceutical firms

Future Health Systems

Droppert H, Bennett S (2015) Corporate social responsibility in global health: an exploratory study of multinational pharmaceutical firms, Globalization and Health 2015 11:15, DOI: 10.1186/s12992-015-0100-5


Background: As pharmaceutical firms experience increasing civil society pressure to act responsibly in a changing globalized world, many are expanding and/or reforming their corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies. We sought to understand how multinational pharmaceutical companies currently engage in CSR activities in the developing world aimed at global health impact, their motivations for doing so and how their CSR strategies are evolving.

Methods: We conducted a small-scale, exploratory study combining (i) an in-depth review of publicly available data on pharmaceutical firms’ CSR with (ii) interviews of representatives from 6 firms, purposively selected, from the highest earning pharmaceutical firms worldwide.

Results: Corporate social responsibility differed for each firm particularly with respect to how CSR is defined, organizational structures for managing CSR, current CSR activities, and motivations for CSR. Across the firms studied, the common CSR activities were: differential pharmaceutical pricing, strengthening developing country drug distribution infrastructure, mHealth initiatives, and targeted research and development. Primary factors that motivated CSR engagement were: reputational benefits, recruitment and employee satisfaction, better rankings in sustainability indices, entrance into new markets, long-term economic returns, and improved population health. In terms of CSR strategy, firms were at different points on a spectrum ranging from philanthropic donations to integrated systemic shared value business models.

Conclusions: CSR is of increasing importance for multinational pharmaceutical firms yet understanding of the array of CSR strategies employed and their effects is nascent. Our study points to the need to (i) develop clearer and more standardized definitions of CSR in global health (2) strengthen indices to track CSR strategies and their public health effects in developing countries and (iii) undertake more country level studies that investigate how CSR engages with national health systems.