Johnson & Johnson – Civil Rights Audit (2021)

Outcome: 34%


: The Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 brought the significant policy issue of systemic racism to the forefront of a widespread public discussion and reckoning in America.

It is clear that business as usual in the healthcare sector can result in disparate outcomes for Black Americans. For example, a recent Eli Lilly op-ed notes “Minorities make up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population but less than 20 percent of participants in the key clinical trials…. [t]his low participation is itself a health disparity.” Further, the mortality rate for black women diagnosed with breast cancer is 42 percent higher than the comparable rate for white women.
In June 2020, JNJ made commitments to address underrepresentation in clinical trials, to strengthen existing community medical systems, and to discontinue skin lightening products. While these commitments are positive steps taken during a time of acute reflection on racism in America, we believe a third-party civil rights audit would demonstrate an even deeper commitment, provide rigorous independent insights, and may reveal additional ways in which JNJ can have even more impact on systemic racism.

We are concerned about the ongoing controversies our company faces related to its decision in May 2020 to discontinue sales of talcum-based powder in North America, but continue sales across the globe. Claims of aggressively marketing these products to Black and Brown women after its talc supplier included the WHO’s “possibly carcinogenic” label on shipments are troubling, as are the more than 19,000 lawsuits pending related to its use. In August, more than 200 health and environmental justice organizations from 50 countries called on the company to “walk its talk on racial equity and valuing Black lives” by ending global sales of talcum-based baby powder.

Companies such as Facebook, Airbnb, and Starbucks, when seeking to understand and address their role in contributing to systemic racism, have commissioned third-party audits. For example, in 2019 Starbucks retained former United States Attorney General Eric Holder to evaluate Starbucks’ policies and practices. The report noted strengths and offered recommendations “to promote civil rights, equity, diversity, and inclusion — both within the Company and the communities it serves.”

The audits commissioned by these companies provide a potential template for our company’s own civil rights audit.

Resolved, shareholders request the company conduct and publish a third-party audit (within a reasonable time, at a reasonable cost, and excluding confidential/proprietary information) to review its corporate policies, practices, products, and services, above and beyond legal and regulatory matters; to assess the racial impact of the company’s policies, practices, products and services; and to provide recommendations for improving the company’s racial impact.

  2. DeSantis CE, Siegel RL, Sauer AG, et al, “Progress and opportunities in reducing racial disparities: Cancer Statistics for African Americans, 2016”, CA Cancer J Clin. 2016; 66:290-308

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