, September 28, 2021

AstraZeneca pays the price for corporate responsibility — maybe the problem is the public


  •   2 min reads
AstraZeneca pays the price for corporate responsibility — maybe the problem is the public

Maybe the one type of person people hate more than someone who is disgustingly rich; is someone who is both disgustingly rich and nice.  And maybe the most underhanded, selfish and unscrupulous business people of all are ordinary members of the public.

I say this because while we all know the business world can be ruthless, underhand and not afraid to stick the knife in occasionally, the most greedy and devious commercial experiences I have ever known relates to selling a home. The dark side of human nature comes out, the gazumpers, the 'change their mind at the last moment' brigade, and maybe the worst type of the lot; the human wheeler-dealer who tries to change the terms of a house sale or purchase at the last moment when they perceive the other party to be desperate.


The public may see business leaders and politicians as scoundrels who are incapable of telling the truth, but many of those who throw stones at the greedy class, do so from houses made of glass.
Maybe that is why we don't like it when companies or wealthy individuals do good — a kind of jealously born from an innate sense of selfishness.


Bill Gates seems hell-bent on giving away a massive chunk of his money but is vilified to the extent that is quite extraordinary.
Or take AstraZeneca and its non-profit making covid-19 vaccine, as Simon Jack said in this BBC article. "AstraZeneca has had a fraught relationship with regulators and politicians; its name has been unfairly but undoubtedly caught up in recriminations over a slow vaccine rollout in the EU, and the share price is 20 per cent lower than it was last summer when the news flow seemed so positive."


AstraZeneca, unlike most if not all other pharmaceutical companies, is not making a profit for the vaccine it developed with Oxford University. Sure, it will make a profit from booster vaccines sold to non-developing countries, but I don't believe these potential profits in the future were its primary motivation; instead, that was a way to keep the city quiet.

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You could say that it only did all this for the publicity. I am not sure whether that is right; I suspect AstraZeneca and its boss Pascal Soriot has been subject to a barrage of suggestions from advisors that the company needed to embrace corporate responsibility and ESG; so developing a vaccine on a non-profit basis seemed like a smart move.
If the company did do it all for PR, then it has backfired. Sure, it hasn't met all its delivery targets, but the Covid crisis is replete with missed deadlines and over-optimistic claims, including from other vaccine developers.

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The Astra/Oxford vaccine is the cheapest and will not generate a profit — yet it is the vaccine that has come under the heaviest criticism; you would have thought AstraZeneca was the definition of corporate greed, the way it has been pilloried.
And that makes me close to despairing about corporate responsibility. If millions of people condemn companies like AstraZeneca and individuals like Bill Gates for doing the right thing, what incentive is there for corporate responsibility and altruism?
But let's start the backlash against the backlash and celebrate corporate responsibility. I nominate Astra Zeneca for the title: most corporately responsible company in 2020.

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