Life sciences and healthcare

Of the survey respondents, 8 classified themselves as being in the pharmaceutical and life science sector1. 71.43% of these respondents had conducted a human rights due diligence process or human rights impact assessment; the second highest of the sectors of focus.

This figure is particularly interesting as a high proportion of respondents from the sector (75%) indicated that their company had never been connected to allegations of human rights impacts, and 50% indicated that they have been concerned about human rights risks when allegations were made regarding other health science sector companies. This suggests that in most of the cases where a company conducted a specific human rights due diligence, this exercise was undertaken even though that company had not been implicated in allegations of human rights issues (or at least this was the perception of the respondent).

This seemingly proactive approach may be attributable to the fact the small pool of respondents were self-selecting. However, there is clearly a good level of understanding of the expectations of the Guiding Principles within the respondents’ respective organisations. This is evident elsewhere in our findings. In 100% of cases where respondents confirmed that their organisations had conducted specific human rights due diligence, the process was conducted with reference to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the ILO core conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Other instruments referred to were national legislation and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

In 100% of cases where human rights due diligence was performed, the function responsible for identifying the human rights impact was CSR and/or Human Resources, followed by Procurement/Supply Chain Management (75%). Other functions listed were Legal, Compliance, Audit and/or Risk Committee, and a Team Dedicated to Human Rights. CEO and Board/Non-Executive Director involvement were also selected. This indicates a strong degree of cross-departmental interaction. This multi-functional approach was less evident in terms of responsibility for preventing, mitigating or remedying actual or potential adverse impacts: Top functions assigned responsibility were Procurement/Supply Chain Management and/or Human Resources. Other functions responsible were CSR, Operations Management, Compliance and Team Dedicated to Human Rights.

In 60% of cases, the process was a standalone exercise. Where integrated, it was integrated into various other processes, including mergers/acquisitions, entering a new market, developing a new product/service, developing a new factory/facility in a new area or community, engaging a new supplier or business partners, for auditing or reporting purposes, in investment decisions and during environmental impact assessments. Survey respondents referred to cross-departmental steering groups or other governance structures being put in place, as well as budget allocation for human rights issues.

The most frequently consulted stakeholder group was employees, followed by suppliers. Other stakeholders which were consulted included consumers, doctors and healthcare workers, civil society, local communities and industry and governmental bodies. 66.67% of respondents who answered an optional question about leverage indicated that they had ‘very little leverage’ over government entities.

Human rights issues specifically relevant to the pharmaceuticals and life sciences sector were identified as:

  • Right of access to medicine
  • Right to health
  • Safety of patients taking medicines
  • Conduct of clinical research including clinical trial of medicines
  • Living wage
  • Child labour
  • Privacy
  • Freedom of movement
  • Supply chain issues
  • Other employment aspects

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1 When broken down according to sector, survey results for the pharmaceutical industry cannot be said with confidence to be representative of the entire industry, for several reasons: the number of respondents from this sector was very small, respondents were self-selecting, completion of the survey was voluntary, and several questions were optional. Ultimately, however, we believe that in combination with our robust follow-up interviews, our findings highlight some interesting trends and points for discussion relevant to the sector.