CEO’s Letter: The stubborn facts about the 100 Best Corporate Citizens List
Elliot H. Clark, CEO
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
– John Adams
In 1770, as the passions of the revolution were boiling over in the colony of Massachusetts, the Boston Massacre set off a renewed outcry by the uninformed citizens of Boston for the hanging of five British regulars. John Adams, a noted advocate for colonial rights, surprisingly took the case and demonstrated the circumstances of the firing were justifiable given the FACTS. His defense included the statement above. You see, the outcry of the uninformed, is a most dangerous situation. In today’s world, placing a microphone or a keyboard in front of someone for whom facts are not “stubborn” things can lead to the grossest misperceptions.
Susan Adams (no relation to the former presidents as far as we know) who, at one time, ran the CSR blog page for Forbes magazine, wrote an article that was less than complimentary of our 100 Best Corporate Citizens List. I write this response today not because I am opposed to the debate. It is because I am opposed to factually incorrect opinion pieces masquerading as journalistic coverage. Susan is a blogger. I was part of the Forbes CSR blog contributing group, but the organizational issues lead to that blog being cancelled. By the end, due to communication issues, very few pieces, if any, were being contributed. I would argue that CSR was still important and the writers in the community were still passionate, but that their effort was so flawed that is was unsustainable.
Facts are stubborn things. In her piece she attacked the inclusion of Bristol Myers Squibb as the top-rated company. She cited their involvement with the Medicines Patent Pool as part of the reason for their selection. Actually, while we commend them for taking part in that effort, our methodology is based upon publicly available disclosures and applies to all companies on nearly 300 data points we automatically collect on the entire Russell 1000. We cannot judge the value of individual initiatives for each company and, frankly, we do not want to be a judge. We maintain an objective, not subjective, process. Companies get to take part in the data cleaning process, which is arduous due to some websites that do not distinguish updated from older historical data. However, this is a not a self reported questionnaire based rating.
She also attacked BMS over the Plavix deal with Apotex that delayed the sale of product into the U.S. This deal was not properly cleared as I understand it for anti-trust issues and led to U.S. government litigation. Arguably, not the most responsible moment in the history of the company; however, she fails to mention that it occurred in 2005 and was settled in 2007. This all predates the tenure of the current CEO Lamberto Andreotti and the current management team.
The other issue she raised was our application of a yellow card for outstanding litigation in a class action based on environmental hazards at the site. Once again, let’s tell what radio journalist Paul Harvey called “the rest of the story.”
The site in New Brunswick has been in remediation since 1993 under the supervision of the New Jersey DEP. BMS has never been cited for failure to comply with the remediation plan. The original contamination dates back to disposal at the site from the 1930s and the 1940s. During the succeeding decades, the site was owned by BMS and, at one time, sold and repurchased. The case had been dismissed but came back to life in 2013. We issued the yellow card because, while it was decades ago, we typically do this with respect to litigation and, once adjudicated, determine if additional penalty cards are in order.
The other issue that inflamed my sensibilities is the allegation that we lack the resources to fact check the survey. Interesting coming from someone who fact checked her article after it was posted, and I have the e-mails from her that afternoon proving it. She asked Bill Hatton, our Editor in Chief, about his staff, which includes himself and two full time resources. She then ASSUMED that was the total staff complement involved. In fact, our research department, not editorial, actually manages the study working with editorial so that is five resources within SharedXpertise, the publisher of CR Magazine and then another six to ten resources from IW Financial. So, that brings the total staff on this survey to roughly a dozen resources working on it during each calendar year.
I hardly think we qualify as “small staff and limited resources” that in her assertion “cannot probe below the surface.” Forbes has more resources than us, I grant you, but this superficial blog post is hardly in a position to throw stones at anyone. Susan was shocked later in the day when I corrected the many misconceptions she voiced in the article. She seemed surprised that the Plavix case was years earlier*.
Facts are stubborn things, so let’s make sure we know them before we voice an opinion. One thing we can all agree upon is that superficial reporting is a far cry from journalistic responsibility.
*There is a current newly publicized case on Plavix involving the assertion by the State of Hawaii that Plavix is less effective on people of Asian descent and it is too early for us, or anyone else, to have an opinion on that legal allegation. There are other outstanding cases on medical issues that are beyond our scientific expertise and we do not comment on issues without being conversant with the facts.