No longer can companies focus solely on making a profit. Increasingly, consumers demand that companies use their power and influence to address sociopolitical and health issues. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is defined as “the voluntary actions an organization implements as it pursues its mission and fulfills its perceived obligations to stakeholders, including employees, communities, the environment, and society as a whole.
GSK, previously named GlaxoSmithKline, was formed through a merger in 2000 and is among the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world (2020). The World Health Organization (WHO) lists many drugs developed by GSK as essential, including amoxicillin and pyrimethamine. Four GSK pharmacologists have received the Nobel Prize for Medicine, and GSK received a score of 100 from the Human Rights Campaign and the LGBT- Rights Advocacy for its Corporate Equality Index.
CSR initiatives should be consistent with the corporation’s mission, values, business goals, and capabilities. According to its website, GSK is “guided by our purpose to unite science, technology, and talent to get ahead of the disease. We know that to get ahead of disease in the right way means being conscious of how we do things and the impact we have on the world around us— however big or small – while we strive to maximize the impact of the products we provide.”
Additionally, GSK plans to “positively impact the health of 2.5 billion people worldwide over the next 10 years” through six areas of focus, Pricing and Access, strategic access programs and partnerships, and accountable pricing — Global Health and Health Security using science and knowledge to address the world’s health challenges — Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, in the people its work supports, clinical trials, and to support its employees — Environmental Sustainability, to reach net zero impact on climate and net positive impact on nature by 2030 — Product Governance, ensure quality, safety, and reliable supply of products — Ethical Standards, do the right thing and act on concerns.
Informativeness is an essential predictor of effective CSR communications. Furthermore, communication should state a company’s CSR initiatives, express consistent commitment to the cause, the impact of its CSR efforts, and its motives, and demonstrate a solid “fit” between the business and the CSR acts. Additionally, though CSR communications should be consistent, stakeholders may think the company has self-serving motives if overwhelming.
GSK is in a unique position regarding its CSR communication. While it provides its stakeholders annual reports and offers information on its website, because of the nature of GSK’s CSR, it is also frequently in the media. GSK’s business fits perfectly with its CSR efforts.
For example, to make its products affordable and accessible to more people, GSK has reduced the cost of many patented medicines in the least developed countries, sometimes as low as 5% above price. Moreover, GSK is reinvesting 20% of profits from these medicines’ sales into the communities through healthcare infrastructure.
A significant advancement in medical science and GSK’s CSR is the development of the world’s first-ever vaccine for malaria. In October 2021, the WHO recommended the “widespread” use of the vaccine, which is also safe for children in sub-Saharan Africa and various areas of high malaria transmission.
This is a massive deal because over 260K children under 5 die annually from malaria, and GSK has agreed to provide the vaccine for just pennies of the development cost. Numerous similar examples exist; it is dedicated to research and development to fight infectious diseases that “disproportionately impact lower-income countries.”
Third-party endorsements have been shown to lower stakeholder skepticism because when perceived as credible, stakeholders transfer the credibility to the partner company, which builds the reputation of the company and its CSR efforts. As we know, the WHO endorses GSK, and the two organizations have a long history where the WHO predicts future medical needs or directly requests GSK to fill a current condition.
When GSK provides the required medicine, it also meets the WHO’s expectations. Doing so repeatedly has built a strong relationship and good reputation for GSK. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has partnered with GSK several times and made it to the news. Other partners include UNICEF in HIV/AIDS, Smile Train, the world-leading cleft charity, and Save the Children.