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Selected Case

published: 05 Jan 2005

  • Topic: Leadership & Organisations
  • Industry: Pharmaceuticals
  • Region: Europe

Abstract:
This is the first of a three-case series. In October 1988, members of the Board and CEO's (chief executive officers) of Roussel-Uclaf (one of the French leaders of the pharmaceutical industry) had to decide whether or not to put in the market RU 486, a pill that provokes abortion without use of surgical methods. The (A) case highlights the issues that they had to consider in order to make the decision; namely, potential ethical problems (including the risk of conflict with employees and executives who oppose the participation of the company on anything related to abortion); a possibility of deterioration of the relationship of Roussel-Uclaf with its parent company Hoechst (of Germany), which opposed the product; and intense public pressure accompanied by a threat of a boycott that could produce important economic losses. The (B) case narrates the subsequent events: Roussel-Uclaf decided to suspend distribution of the product. But two days after the firm made its decision public, the French Government intervened and mandated the firm to reverse its decision. Part (C) describes the French experience with RU 486 and the possibilities of making the product available world-wide. It emphasizes the problems posed by the possible marketing of the product in the United States, where the abortion issue ranks first in many political agendas, and in the Third World, where the deficiency of medical facilities poses a serious risk of misuse of the product.

Pedagogical Objectives:
The case series was primarily written for a course on business ethics; it places the manager in a business situation that confronts her or his fundamental values, which may or may not differ from the interests of the firm. Nevertheless, given the variety and complexity of issues it raises (eg; managing pressure from public opinion and tension between the firm and its parent company and between the firm and its employees), the case may prove to be a valuable pedagogical tool in several other management courses, including business policy, international business, organisational behaviour, decision analysis and personnel management.

Keywords:
Ethics, Corporate Responsibility, Public Pressure, Firm's Image, Decision Making, Third World

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