In recent days, Pfizer has been in the news cycle for two materially different reasons.
Indeed, the juxtaposition is striking.
First, Pfizer (a company that resolved an approximate $60 million Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action in 2012 concerning conduct in Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Italy, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Serbia) has been under renewed FCPA scrutiny since 2019 and recently disclosed as follows:
“In June 2019, we received an informal request from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) Unit seeking documents relating to our operations in Russia. In September 2019, we received a similar request from the SEC’s FCPA Unit. We are producing records pursuant to these requests.”
“In June 2020, we received an informal request from the U.S. Department of Justice’s FCPA Unit seeking documents relating to our operations in China. In August 2020, we received a similar request from the SEC’s FCPA Unit. We are producing records pursuant to these requests.”
To the extent another FCPA enforcement action against Pfizer occurs, the company will grow the large (and growing) list of FCPA repeat offenders.
If that happens, will Pfizer become a “bad” and “unethical” company (to the extent it already isn’t in the minds of some because it previously resolved an FCPA enforcement action)?
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Pfizer recently announced that its COVID-19 vaccine candidate “was found to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in participants without evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection in the first interim efficacy analysis.”
In the release, Dr. Albert Bourla (Pfizer Chairman and CEO) stated:
“Today is a great day for science and humanity. The first set of results from our Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent COVID-19. We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen. With today’s news, we are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis. We look forward to sharing additional efficacy and safety data generated from thousands of participants in the coming weeks.”
That an FCPA violator (not to mention a potential repeat offender) is poised for a COVID-19 breakthrough demonstrates once again the simplistic narrative that companies resolving FCPA enforcement actions are bad or unethical.
To the contrary, many companies that resolve FCPA enforcement actions otherwise win awards of being the most ethical, most admired, or otherwise produce products or services that change the world. (See previous posts here, here and here regarding Ethisphere’s “World’s Most Ethical Companies List,” this post for how such companies have been well-represented on Fortune’s “Most Admired Companies” list and this post for how such companies are well-represented on Fortune’s “Changing the World” list).