More NewsThe corridors of power…

The corridors of power...

One of the more unusual bosses I have interviewed is JP Garnier, chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline.

A big, tall man, French-born and raised, he lives in America and has acquired
one of those irritating mid-Atlantic accents – Ronald Reagan meets Inspector
Clouseau. In JP-speak, ‘pill’ becomes ‘peel’.

The men who run these huge companies are only too keen to drone on about
corporate philanthropy. Usually, they are best ignored, but Garnier is
different.

He spent several minutes telling me about a programme in which GSK
participates that is aimed at immunising some of the world’s poorest people
against elephantiasis, a disfiguring tropical disease, also known as LF. You’ve
seen the pictures: people with grotesquely swollen arms and legs.

GSK makes a pill which, taken once a year for five years, protects against
elephantiasis. More than 120 million people have been treated through a
coalition of NGOs. GSK has committed $1bn to the programme over 20 years.

Garnier described signing up to it as the most important business decision of
his career.

I mention it because, as you read this, I will be in Sri Lanka buying goods
for tsunami refugees (of which more in due course). It is easy to be cynical
about corporate giving, but there is nothing like spending time among the very
poor to change your opinion.

GSK and other multinationals earn enormous profits and need to be kept under
scrutiny by the financial press. But, in a fair world, they would also be given
their due for philanthropic programmes.

You’ll find it all in the annual report, but it is rare to read about it in
the newspapers, unless some scandal is involved.

Perhaps it’s time that changed.

Jon Ashworth is a freelance journalist and writer

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