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By Lydia Kuykendal
February 6, 2024, Adrian, Michigan – Last year, shareholder health work focused on intellectual property protections for branded drugs. Specifically, it sought to clarify the relationship between pharmaceutical company patenting and access strategies.
That work continues, with the Portfolio Advisory Office filing resolutions at five pharma companies – Eli Lilly, Gilead Sciences, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Merck. Several regulatory changes over the past year will impact this issue, and we hope that companies see these second-year proposals as a way to prepare for these coming changes.
First, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) empowers the federal government to negotiate some drug prices. Some have argued that it enacts significant patent reform, specifically around the issue this proposal seeks to understand. This comes from a critical provision of the IRA that states the only drugs that qualify to be considered for price negotiations are drugs with no generic competition, thus discouraging extended patent exclusivities. Additionally, three bills addressing patent reform passed out of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in 2023 and, if passed, would impact pharma companies’ current practices.
In addition to the continuing work on patents, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) health group has started a workstream around the right to health. This is a human right: the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as defined by the World Health Organization. Access to medicines is a critical component of the right to health.
Target 3.8 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 3 assesses progress toward “access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.” The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health has made clear that states and pharmaceutical firms share the responsibility for increasing access to medicines and recommends that firms “should adopt a human rights policy statement which expressly recognizes the importance of human rights generally and the right to the highest attainable standard of health in particular.”
However, a quick look at drug pricing shows that U.S. pharmaceutical companies are not supporting this right. An analysis by the Rand Corporation concluded that U.S. prices for branded drugs were nearly 3.5 times higher than prices in 32 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found “prescription drug costs to be an important health policy area of public interest and concern.”
Shareholder proposals at Eli Lilly, Bristol Myers Squibb, and Pfizer seek to understand whether the business model of pharma companies may pose human rights risks. The current business model of the pharmaceutical sector, which in many instances prioritizes profitability over patient health, often infringes on these rights. Given pending legislation in the European Union that would mandate human rights due diligence as called for in the UN guiding principles, companies undertaking human rights due diligence will be ahead of the curve.
International human rights organizations have recognized the human right to health for decades. Drug manufacturers have a responsibility to operationalize a business model that promotes this right worldwide. If, as all companies in this industry state, patients are indeed the most essential part of their business, this should be an achievable task.
Chicago, December 11, 2023 – Two Adrian Dominican Sisters were among 150 attendees of the Alliance Against Human Trafficking conference who shared ideas about their efforts to end the scourge of human trafficking.
Begun in 2013 as U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, the organization celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. It changed its name to Alliance Against Human Trafficking to be more inclusive of the many allies in the Sisters’ efforts against human trafficking.
Human trafficking – the forced, fraudulent, or coerced exploitation of human beings in labor or commercial sex – is an illegal trade that afflicts women, children, and men. Polaris Project, a national anti-human trafficking organization, puts the number of people who are trafficked at 25 million worldwide. “It’s a big, $1.5 billion operation,” said Sister Patricia McDonald, OP, adding that human trafficking is the second largest illegal trade, after drugs.
Sister Patricia emphasized that human trafficking is everywhere in the world. “In my work here in Michigan, I’ve learned that many people think we don’t have human trafficking in Lenawee County because it’s rural, but in all 83 counties in Michigan, there are cases of human trafficking,” she said.
“One of the phenomenal aspects [of the conference] was how many different people we were able to interact with and network about what was taking place in their geographical regions,” Sister Patricia said. She gained “new ideas, new insight, a way of realizing the connection of all of us.” Human trafficking is growing worldwide, and “the more who are involved [in working against it], the more can be done,” she said.
Sister Judy Byron, OP, also attended the conference. “One takeaway for me was that we had the vision to end human trafficking, and the Sisters got together to found Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking,” Sister Judy said. “We’ve partnered with associates and many organizations and lay people to address this issue because it’s bigger than us.”
Through her involvement with the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center (IPJC), based in Seattle, Sister Judy has been active in efforts against human trafficking since 2008. The organization’s many activities include monthly vigils in downtown Seattle that have been ongoing for 15 years and various presentations on the topic to raise awareness of the issue, including webinars for junior high school students.
During the vigils, IPJC activists hold signs to attract the attention of passersby. In the beginning, Sister Judy said, people thought that human trafficking involved brothels in Cambodia. “Over the years, people began to realize that it’s happening in this country – labor and sex trafficking,” she said. “People thought it was over there but realized that human trafficking is no respecter of countries. It’s everywhere.”
Sister Judy explained that Adrian Dominican Sisters and other faith-based investors also work with the tourism industry to train their employees about the signs of a human trafficking situation and what they should do if they suspect it. Hotels and airlines especially have been training their employees, she said.
A particular challenge in efforts against human trafficking is that it has moved online in recent years, Sister Judy said. “Children are solicited on their phones and groomed for sex,” she explained. “There are parental controls on iPads and phones, but if kids want to find a way around it, they will.” Faith-based shareholders are working with social media platforms such as Meta, phone companies, and other communications companies to find ways to protect children, she said.
Sister Patricia educates the public, working with parishes and schools in the Adrian area and speaking to organizations such as the local Chamber of Commerce. “I see many positive programs reaching out to the public,” she said. “This networking is very proactive and positive around addressing the issue.”
If you suspect that a situation involves labor or sex trafficking, call the U.S. Department of Human Services at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423). More information can be found on www.dhs.gov/bluecampaign or from the Polaris Project, https://polarisproject.org/.
January has been declared the National Human Trafficking Prevention Month and January 11, 2024, is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. The observance continues into February with the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, the Patron Saint of Human Trafficking Victims.