By Sabrina Lynch
- $100M awarded to more than 1000 people claiming Baby Powder contamination
- In 2019, Johnson & Johnson recalled 33,000 bottles of its Baby Powder product
The pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (JNJ +0.29%) has set aside $3.9 billion in a ‘trust fund’ for litigation expenses to cover payouts for trust lost from 25,000 consumers who purchased its Baby Powder. For years, J&J has faced accusations that its talcum baby powder has been laced with asbestos, resulting in thousands of plaintiffs filing lawsuits claiming they were diagnosed with cancer after using the product. The setup of the litigation account is even more concerning for Black women who, 15 years ago, were selected by J&J as “the right place” to sell more Baby Powder to, specifically targeting “under-developed geographical areas with hot weather and higher AA [African-American] population”.
Why This Matters: Racial and ethic disparities in U.S. healthcare are rife, with Black women facing higher risks to their health from discrimination. In 2006, the company began distributing baby powder through a specially curated network of churches and beauty salons targeting Black & Hispanic communities. Moreover, J&J launched a $300,000 radio advertising campaign in six markets with the prime goal of reaching “curvy Southern women 18-49 skewing African American.” To add insult to injury, an independent investigation discovered that the company knew for decades that asbestos was mixed in with the talcum.
The lack of care for Black & Hispanic consumers is evident, fueling fears about the ethical standards of J&J’s health & safety protocols. Last year alone, J&J was ordered to pay $2.1 billion to a group of women who linked their ovarian cancer to J&J products; with six of the plaintiffs dying before the trial started and five more passing since 2018.
Misinformation around the safety of the product and a barrage of marketing to Black and Hispanic neighborhoods infers purposeful intent to destroy the wellbeing of People of Color. A lot of harm has been caused to consumers due to a severe lack of competence and ethical behavior on J&J’s side.
Situational Awareness: In the meantime, policy advisors have called for more tangible actions to address the harm the product has caused, including a global ban and reparations to communities of color. The number of personal injury lawsuits is only set to increase, leading to greater skepticism over J&J’s efficacy of products, namely towards the one-shot COVID vaccine. J&J’s vaccine was approved in February but has since been scrutinized for its shortcomings.
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