Ethical Performance
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Major index goes missing as firms hit by data overload

February 2010

A high-profile annual social responsibility index of pharmaceuticals companies has failed to appear because of wranglings over the ‘extraordinary’ amounts of data the businesses have been asked to provide.

The Access to Medicine Index, started as a yearly ranking in June 2008, should have been published last summer, but is unlikely to appear until at least June this year.

Companies asked to provide information for the index have told EP the amount of detail requested was unacceptable – one estimated it would have had to provide more than 130,000 separate pieces of data.

Their objections to the process, combined with a longer than expected consultation exercise on how the index should be improved, have led to the delay.

Conflict over the data gathering process, which is managed by the RiskMetrics consultancy, intensified at the end of last year, when companies were given 35 working days over Christmas to collate and submit the information.

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), a Geneva-based trade association, then wrote to the Netherlands-based Access to Medicine Foundation, which runs the index, expressing its ‘deeply felt’ concerns at the amount of detail required and the short deadline.

It said the worries were shared by most members, including Abbott, Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Novartis, Novo Nordisk and Roche. As a result, the foundation has now relaxed the deadlines and reduced the amount of data it is requesting, though the companies still say the task is onerous.

IFPMA spokesman Guy Willis said: ‘The people at the index have certainly moved some way to simplifying the extraordinarily heavy reporting burden and have also given some indications that they are willing to be flexible on the timeframe. The companies have always been willing to give it their best shot, but that would have been in jeopardy if they had maintained an insistence on what we felt were impossible demands.’

However, some doubt remains as to whether June is a realistic date for the index to appear. ‘It’s now a more workable exercise but we’ll have to see how it goes,’ said Willis.

One head of CSR at a multinational  pharmaceuticals company told EP: ‘At least some sort of compromise has been reached. There was a consultation on the shape of the index that was very thorough with all stakeholders – except the companies. As a result we’ve had all these problems. They were asking for an extraordinary level of detail; it was grossly unfair.’

The foundation’s spokesman said: ‘The companies are being very co-operative and we think that we should be able to publish in June. ‘We originally wanted to do this annually but we also wanted a thorough stakeholder process with all the actors involved – and that took much longer than anticipated.’

The foundation concedes that recent experiences have suggested the index  – which ranks leading pharmaceutical companies worldwide on their efforts to increase access to medicine in developing nations – is unlikely to appear annually in the future, and may now be published every other year.

The index attracted extensive worldwide media coverage when it was unveiled in June 2008, but was received unfavourably by many pharmaceuticals companies, mainly because they felt it took an unsophisticated league-table approach to a complex issue. Pfizer, which scored poorly in the first index, claimed the methodology was ‘deeply flawed’, while GSK, which came top, also criticized the way it was put together.

Every company in the index is rated on dozens of indicators grouped under criteria such as their research and development into neglected diseases, patent and licensing policies and drug donations policies. Part of the recent data collection problem was that companies were being asked for data on these areas for every product they produce, which for the larger firms runs into the thousands.

The index is funded by various organizations, including the UK Department of International Development, the Dutch foreign ministry, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which came forward with a $1million grant last summer.  

It has drawn support from a number of institutional investors – such as Schroders and SNS Asset Management – which have said they will use it to inform investment decisions.       

Riskmetrics | Global | Benchmarking

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