Black Maternal Health Week is a good time to take stock of whether America’s largest corporations actually walk the walk on racial health equity. For Johnson & Johnson, the answer is an obvious NO. But shareholders of the world’s largest healthcare company will soon get the chance to begin rectifying this problem.
Black Women for Wellness and partners around the world working for racial equity urge Johnson & Johnson’s shareholders to vote YES on Resolutions 7 and 10 at its April 28th shareholder meeting which will direct the company to conduct an independent racial equity audit and end global sales of talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder, respectively. J&J shareholders now have the opportunity to become a leader in showing the world that racist and immoral business practices will not be tolerated.
Johnson & Johnson markets itself as a company that believes Black Lives Matter. But the facts – found in J&J’s own internal documents – tell a very different story. They reveal a company that is unconcerned about racial health equity and justice. In fact, they reveal that J&J deliberately targeted Black women with toxic products, jeopardizing our health and the health of our communities.
Two years ago, Black Women for Wellness and 200 groups from 50 countries urged J&J CEO Alex Gorsky to protect women’s health – and especially Black women – by immediately ending global sales of its talc-based Baby Powder that testing has demonstrated may be contaminated with asbestos, a known carcinogen. The company refused to do so, even though it is a simple matter of switching to the corn-starch based baby powder they already sell in the U.S. They chose, instead, to continue to operate in a way that showed how they truly feel about Black lives, despite CEO Alex Gorsky’s grandiose statement on racial equity made during the wave of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.
Why did J&J stop selling talc powder in the U.S.? Because the demand for its talc-based products had dwindled due to mounting lawsuits that said it caused cancer. Currently the company is facing over 38,000 lawsuits, many of them filed by Black and Brown women – who say their ovarian cancers are linked to their use of Johnson’s talc based baby powder.
Talc is commonly contaminated with asbestos. And, as Reuters reported in 2019, “Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its baby powder.” Although the company later said its talc powder was asbestos free, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported finding asbestos in Johson’s Baby Powder as recently as 2019.
It gets worse. As health concerns mounted over asbestos and talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder, documents unsealed in the trials reveal that J&J focused its marketing on minority and overweight women, and specifically on African American women.
Now that J&J is facing thousands of lawsuits, are they finally acting to protect the health of women of color? No, this company worth over $400 billion is trying to evade financial responsibility by spinning off its liability for talc lawsuits to a shell company that will then declare bankruptcy – a shady move known as the “Texas Two Step.” This unprincipled and duplicitous action is the antithesis of their Black Lives Matter statement from CEO Alex Gorsky on their website.
The fact is, J&J has a long rap sheet of harming people of color. As the BMJ reported just last month, documents unsealed in talcum powder litigation show that J&J “funded a 1971 study in which Pennsylvania prison inmates, most of them Black, were injected subcutaneously with asbestos.” The company now says it “regrets” funding the study.
Regret is not enough! J&J’s shareholders must demand better by directing the company to back up its words on racial equity and justice by conducting an internal racial justice audit and ending all global sales of its talc-based baby powder. These actions are crucial and urgently needed to protect the lives of Black women around the world.
We asked J&J two years ago to stop selling talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder because we have known too many Black women suffering from reproductive and breast cancers; we are direct witnesses to the suffering, expense and harm caused to families and communities by cancer. Selling a product that may be contaminated with asbestos in international markets with majority women of color contradicts everything J&J has said about its commitment to racial justice and places the company on the wrong side of history. We ask J&J shareholders to honor its stated morals and ethics, and protect Black women around the world. Our lives matter. . To learn more and to join us, please visit this website: www.bwwla.org
About BlackWomen for Wellness:
Black Women For Wellness is a nonprofit social justice agency based in Los Angeles, California committed to advancing the health and well-being of Black women and girls through education, empowerment, and advocacy. Learn more at www.bwwla.org
Contact: Janette Robinson Flint , serves as BWWLA Executive Director Email: [email protected]