Living the Global Compact
We also took a step back to think hard about what we were actually supporting. The principles of the Global Compact are defined in such a general way that they invite an astonishing plurality of interpretation. Our own people, as well as society, want to be sure we walk as we talk. That makes it critical to be explicit about where our commitment begins – as well as where it ends.
Novartis was the first and, for many years, the only pharmaceutical company to work with prominent politicians, political scientists, human rights activists such as John Ruggie and Mary Robinson, as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as Amnesty International.1 It helped us to get a clearer view of our own position – but also a better idea of how to manage expectations.
Today the Global Compact is the single most accepted code of behavior – internationally and culturally. It has the unique advantage of being the common denominator for the global community with regard to human rights, labor standards, the environment and anti-corruption. More and more, NGOs accept the Global Compact principles as a standard framework for corporate responsibility. At the beginning, many were skeptical and there were frequent accusations that companies would abuse the Global Compact to embellish their own image without making a serious and ongoing commitment. Today, NGOs accept that most companies do take it seriously.
“We should be proud that Novartis was one of the first signatories and supported the Global Compact from a very early stage. Switzerland also played a key role, putting funds into the Global Compact long before anybody thought it would take off.”
What have been the highlights of implementation?
KL: We should be proud that Novartis was one of the first signatories and supported the Global Compact from a very early stage. Switzerland also played a key role, putting funds into the Global Compact long before anybody thought it would take off. The fact that the Global Compact is so successful today owes very much to the Swiss Federation; unfortunately that contribution isn’t sufficiently recognized.
A new version of the Novartis Code of Conduct was issued, containing a reference to the Global Compact, and items such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that had never been covered before. Concrete, action-specific targets have been set and performance indicators have been defined and integrated into existing management systems and working practices. We developed guidelines to apply the standards of Novartis to third parties: business partners and suppliers. Local legality cannot be our understanding of legitimacy; no company can hide behind bad laws or lack of law enforcement.
Novartis has set a standard with regard to its “living wage” policy instead of paying “minimal wages” only. We have set standards in human rights policies and their implementation. We instituted highly significant access-to-medicine programs as a contribution to the UN Millennium Development Goals which are also on the agenda of the Global Compact.
We conduct pro bono research in Singapore aiming to discover medicines and vaccines against neglected diseases occurring in poor countries. We provide access to treatments against malaria at cost and against leprosy free of charge. Our pioneering anticancer drug Gleevec/Glivec is provided free to thousands of poor patients around the globe through patient assistance programs because Dr. Vasella said no one should die because this medicine is expensive. All this is evidence of the “curing and caring” philosophy of Novartis.
The question, “how much is enough?” will never find a conclusive answer. What do we tell hard-nosed managers or investors who question why Novartis should put USD 1.5 billion into these access-to-medicine programs when these funds could be profitably invested?
- Mr. Ruggie has served as Special Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations; Ms. Robinson is the former President of Ireland, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and also is active in several nongovernmental organizations.