PharmExec Blog

What Pharma Could Do for Occupy Wall Street

Demonstrators at Zuccotti Park in New York City persevered through the first snow of the season, while reports from other U.S.-based occupations – in Denver, Oakland, Nashville and other cities – are tallying the arrests, which have become increasingly frequent, and forceful. “The whole world is watching,” a chant that gained prominence during anti-war protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, is being loudly recited by occupiers around the country. The world is watching. Anyone with a smart phone can record video and put it online, and a growing number of websites stand ready to gather and disseminate occupy-related content. The result of ongoing media coverage, mainstream and independent, is the emergence of a platform.

Back in August, before there was any mainstream media coverage of the movement, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) cited Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Economic Bill of Rights speech on one of its websites, which includes the “right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.” To the pharmaceutical companies with headquarters in the tri-state area: why not send a few boxes of provisions to the demonstrators? Not prescription drugs, of course, but OTC products like Band-Aids, Neosporin and tampons (Johnson & Johnson), and Advil, Robitussin and ChapStick (Pfizer).

Pharmaceutical companies complain, rightly sometimes, that they aren’t duly recognized for the community service and philanthropic efforts they provide and support, outside of core business operations. Industry’s current reputation may be slightly “above Congress and tobacco,” as Pfizer CEO Ian Read recently put it, but that isn’t saying much. Pfizer headquarters is a subway ride away – without the need to change trains – from Zuccotti Park. Johnson & Johnson likes to talk about the clear social benefit its products have provided over the years, but here is a chance to bandage the cuts and scrapes of an active and visible community. It’s a PR play, but one that isn’t damaged by its transparency. Given J&J’s ongoing manufacturing difficulties, and Pfizer’s ongoing promotional missteps, both companies could use a reputational lift.

From an OWS perspective, companies like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson represent a scientific vehicle fueled primarily by commercial interests, without seat belts or airbags; the humanistic objectives of most pharmaceutical scientists get left by the wayside. Executive compensation at top pharmas, in the context of plant closures in the U.S., is also a point of contention. Despite this perspective, a goodly portion of the demonstrators, not to mention their families and friends, have probably depended on medicines produced by one of these two companies, at one time or another. The question is, would OWS be willing to accept a gift of bandages, pain relievers, decongestants and other products from pharma, to aid in the struggle against the elements? My guess is that they would, and that they would be grateful. It wouldn’t hurt to ask. Perhaps the question can be put to the General Assembly, for a consensus vote.

Regardless of whether you believe access to adequate medical care is a right or a privilege, what would be lost by donating a few boxes of Dr. Scholl’s to OWS, Merck? The Congressional Budget Office’s October report on income growth (1979-2007) makes it more difficult for political pundits to continue saying they don’t understand what the OWS message is, or why these demonstrations are occurring (full CBO report here). Gifting medical supplies to protesters accomplishes PR goals, and it aids those demonstrators willing to stand and sleep outside for a cause they believe will help make America a stronger, more equitable place to live and work.

Pfizer, J&J, Merck and others, will you step up? Anyone own a subsidiary that makes hand warmers?

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  1. Chris Hanson
    Posted November 3, 2011 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Could it be that the author entirely misses the supreme irony in his calling for Wall Street pharmaceutical executives to remedy the ills of the Occupy Wall Street protestors? The picture of industry executives providing relief packages would indeed be worth a thousand words.

  2. Posted November 3, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    A thousand words indeed, I hope to write them, thanks for your comment, Chris. If there’s no distinction to be made between “Wall Street pharmaceutical executives” and financial industry execs, as you suggest, perhaps TARP should be extended to Pfizer and Merck in light of Lipitor and Singulair patent expiries, so they don’t have to keep closing factories and firing sales reps.

  3. Dan Focht
    Posted November 3, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Somebody tell me why the act of helping the protesters of capitalism is not like shooting yourself in the foot! Pharmaceutical companies represent part of our domestic productive infrastructure just as important as the steel, auto, tool and die, and plastics industries etc. These productive industries generate the wealth of our country by producing products sold on an international scale. Capitalism at its best! The occupy people have a distain for such accomplishments. Why make their life any easier when their activity is reducing our ability to generate the wealth that our nation needs to survive? I know that multinational companies have their products made in what ever country gives them the best production environment. I want to see America once again become the best environment for the production of goods for both domestic and multinational companies. That won’t happen if the public capitulates to the protesters.

  4. Posted November 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your comment, Dan. I think OWS is protesting capitalism as practiced by the financial industry (with its government-subsidized risk-taking), not capitalism in general. GDP took a dive as a direct result of the financial crisis, and mass unemployment followed. The creation of an environment for healthy and fair corporate production, employment and prosperity in America is a goal you share with many of the demonstrators, believe it or not.

  5. Dan #2
    Posted November 9, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Why in the world does anyone care what OWS wants or thinks? Just because they didn’t want to achieve high academic standards to obtain a good-paying job the rest of us are supposed to give them free stuff?? We should be afraid of a group that purports to represent 99% of the population but truly represents less than 1% and is actually endangering the vast majority of us and OUR way of life.

  6. Posted November 9, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your comment, Dan #2. There is no dearth of high academic achievement among the demonstrators in Zuccotti Park, if it matters. Also, if Occupy Wall Street is endangering your way of life, as you claim, that’s a good reason to care about what they want or think. Demonstrators argue that the current financial system, and its too-cozy relationship with government, is where the danger lies for the majority of Americans.

  7. Zephyr
    Posted November 22, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this article!! It’s a reasonable and compassionate call to action. I work for a small pharma company and am pleased to see this link between pharma and OWS! You are absolutely right to suggest such donations, and yes, the protesters would be happy and grateful for them. I just visited OccupyDC over the weekend, which is going strong and where the DC police have been quite cooperative. The crowd changes all the time, and is a beautifully diverse group of all ages, ethnicities, educational levels, and employment backgrounds who live in peaceful and creative solidarity with each other. Amazing interactions occur there. They are all just fed up with the gross injustice (and corruption) of the current system – NOT capitalism itself. This injustice is a threat to ALL of us. As MLK Jr said, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. FYI – results of a study that came out recently indicated that in countries with the most unequal wealth distribution, people were the most unhappy – including the rich.

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