Johnson and Johnson: Hiding Carcinogens in your Cupboards

Deontology and Utilitarianism are two contrasting viewpoints on ethics. The utilitarian would argue a ‘right’ ethical decision is one which maximises the most good for the least harm whilst a deontologist first ponders the ‘right’ actions regardless of the outcome. This blog considers Johnson & Johnson (J&J) from these two ethical viewpoints in light of their recent $72m lawsuit regarding the use of harmful chemicals such as talc and carcinogens in their products and argues whether J&J are ethically right to continue with the use of these chemicals in their product formulations.

A Utilitarian approach

“Business must make a sound profit.” (Johnson & Johnson Code of Conduct)

Talc is widely used as an ingredient in cosmetic products such as talcum powder as it absorbs moisture, helping to keep the skin dry and prevent rashes; a benefit for millions of J&J’s product users worldwide, especially those residing in hot climates. Although some  studies have raised concerns about a possible link between the use of talc and ovarian cancer, these studies have yielded inconclusive results; in some cases reporting a slightly increased risk whilst none in others. A utilitarian would argue that the use of talc in J&J’s products is justified when comparing the millions of users that benefit worldwide to the 1,200 cases similar to the lawsuit, suggesting more good than harm to society has been brought about by the company’s actions.  

Furthermore, J&J perfectly complies with the legislations enforced in the countries in which it operates. In the EU 1,372 chemicals, including talc have been banned from use in cosmetic products as opposed to only 10 (excluding talc) in the US. J&J obeys these regulations and uses talc-free formulations for its EU products. It could be argued that by eliminating the use of talc in its EU products, whilst retaining the use talc based formulations for its US product where it is not banned by law, does indeed reduce society’s overall risk to the inconclusive claims of ovarian cancer caused by talc.

Considering the egoistic approach, a variation of utilitarian ethics focused on achieving the most good for one’s self, it can be argued that as J&J’s products are cosmetics, not drugs, no law is  broken.  Therefore, there is no benefit in changing their well-established and thoroughly tested processes or the chemicals used in them. For example, the chemical formaldehyde used in some of their products in minuscule quantities are not detrimental to humans. Despite being classed as carcinogenic by the EPA in 1987, formaldehyde was not prohibited by law. Without official regulations in place, eliminating the use of formaldehyde in its products would have cost J&J millions of dollars, which would have been economically disadvantageous. This extra cost would eventually have been passed down to its customers, impacting their financial capability to access these vital products.

This egoistic approach is also apparent in J&J’s response to the concerns about the potential linkage of their products with cancer. The 1,200 lawsuit talc cases are only very recent but the concerns themselves have been going on for decades. By actively changing the composition of their products decades ago as a consequence of raised concerns, they would have risked publicly exposing themselves, harming their reputation and profit. This would have been indeed unwise considering that the exact risk of developing cancer from their products had not actually been determined.

A Deontological approach

“We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurse and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.”

(Johnson & Johnson Code of Conduct)

Reading this, J&J would lead you to believe they uphold Deontology ethics. However, further research into the company revealed a distorted past; the illegal drugs promotion as well as the ovarian cancer lawsuit, suggesting quite the opposite.

J&J’s oldest product and the world’s most popular talcum powder, JOHNSON’s® baby powder was found to contain the confirmed human carcinogens 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde. Referring back to Immanuel Kant’s duty ethics, it would be expected of the company to take ownership of the problem at hand and rectify urgently. A strong link to ovarian cancer was discovered, and after three years of protesting and campaigning, the company finally acknowledged the issue and demanded another three years for the chemicals to be removed. Surely this contradicts their promise of “safety is our priority”. In 2016, J&J hit the headlines when a lawsuit was made against the firm and the jury concluded on a $72m settlement over the death of Ms. Fox, 62 who suffered from ovarian cancer after being a routine user of the talcum powder. J&J accepted the claim that their ‘feminine hygiene product’ lead to this tragedy.

Ms Berg, another victim amongst the thousands, revealed J&J sought to cover up the evidence rather than accepting responsibility by offering $1.3m hush money. Abiding by the deontologist beliefs, J&J should have accepted responsibility at first instant and accepted whatever consequences. Furthermore, it has also come to light, that J&J illegally gave incentives to pharmacies for the promotion of off-label drug use. Referring back to their code of conduct, they must ‘comply with the laws and standards’, for which they were fined $2.2bn. The repercussions of this are demonstrated in the Thalidomide controversy.

More shockingly, JOHNSON’s® baby shampoo contains 200 times the OSHA recommended formaldehyde limit. Despite the law not requiring the labelling, or reduction of the concentration of the chemical, deontologists would argue that it is the ‘right’ thing to do. Whilst the founders of Johnson & Johnson along with many other multinational corporations set out with the right intentions and visualised their products to have a beneficial impact on the many, arguably this is no longer the case. It appears that the morals of the company have been compromising human welfare to maximise its growth and profitability. 

With the growing reality of a utilitarian approach, are big corporations right to compromise the lives of the few for the needs of the many?


50: Anu Iyanda, Sara Ortiz de Landazuri, Maha Khan, Emma Parkin


33 thoughts on “Johnson and Johnson: Hiding Carcinogens in your Cupboards

  1. The utilitarian approach although economically beneficial for big corporations, in that it will allow them to amass great profits by providing products for the majority and not having to further research and tailor there products for the select few who do not fall into the aforementioned majority, has the potential to run rogue if corporations are allowed to reign free.
    In order to ensure the highest standards are kept and not sacrificed for profits, the utiliarian approach must be balanced by stricter laws set by governments and enforced in full without bias. Only in this way will competitive products still find their way on to the markets whilst still protecting (as well as possible) the lives of consumers.


  2. The fact that the utilitarian approach focuses only economic benefits for the company but disregard the lives of the few who might be affectecd by their products is to be condemned. The egolistic element in utilitarianism that has encouraged J&J to utilise the loopholes in law to remain highly profitable for years is to be blame. The company would need to add more deontological concerns in its business strategies to become more morally responsible while making these huge profits.


  3. The fact of the matter is that J&J are abiding by all laws laid out in the markets they are selling these powders. It is the duty of the governmental bodies to prohibit the use of potentially harmful chemicals, and these lawsuits should be directed towards them. I am surprised and appalled by the difference in the number of banned chemicals between the US and the EU and feel that our transatlantic counterparts need to buck up their ideas.

    I feel that the term ‘hush money’ is extremely loaded, particularly when settlement payments are routine occurrences in cases of this nature. Furthermore, your comment on the labeling of the baby shampoo being the ‘right thing to do’ seems a little impulsive. Of course, as the product is intended for infants it gets tempers riled, but if we were to label every product that contained ‘potentially’ carcinogenic chemicals, we’d have shockingly few unlabeled items left. Yet, once again this falls on the FDA to rectify.

    You raise excellent points about J&J’s misleading ethical quote. Yet, as an American company, under US regulations, they may still feel that their ‘first responsibility’ targets the aforementioned parties.


  4. The utilitarian approach followed by J&J not only is inadmissible but inconsiderate from a societal and health perspective. The fact they place more weight on their individual profitability is creating external costs that I believe will pay back to them negatively. Once customers become aware of their untapped information (regarding the ingredients they use in their cosmetic products) this will go view through social networks and word of mouth and will trigger a drop in their sales and potential market share.

    Howevever, they could adopt a mixed utilitarian and deontological side that could fix their brand image. For instance, they could start by avoiding by publicly acknowledging they’ve made a mistake by using certain chemical doses and proceed by emphasising how they will adjust their products to take into account the health and safety of their consumers.


  5. Congratulations on such an interesting article. It is very enlightening to have both views spoken of in one piece; the utilitarian perspective and the deontological.

    I believe there is no black and white when it comes to ethics. Intentions, ways and results must all be taken into account when considering the degree to which J&J must be held accountable for the use of talc.

    I do believe the mission and vision of J&J as you portray in the article is truthful. I believe their intentions truly are to remain responsible for the nurses, doctors and parents. The ways in which they have tried to achieve these objectives however, are more than questionable.

    I don’t believe they should account for any responsibility for the use of talc before the correlations between the substance and cancer were discovered. However, once this was published, J&J should have, for the results of their actions, apologized publicly and amended the damage that may have been caused through its products.

    I believe this is a clear example of something we should all be aware of; laws are not equal to ethics, and they should not be treated as such. If J&J is a law abiding company, it should portray itself in that manner, not as a caring company trying to improve its company social responsibility propaganda.


  6. My family and myself have been J&J product users for years, but when you come across headlines slamming them for a $72m lawsuit, you can’t help but question J&J’s integrity. Am I safe using their products? Do I need to think twice before purchasing anything with their brand on it? This fear or hesitation in the consumer’s mind should be reason enough for J&J to step up their game and take responsibility for their actions.

    The utilitarians claim, ”Without official regulations in place, eliminating the use of formaldehyde in its products would have cost J&J millions of dollars, which would have been economically disadvantageous”. Whichever way you look at it, they are paying for their own mistakes, whether that be through a change in constituents of their product or the 1,200 odd lawsuits piled on them. However, the latter in my opinion has much larger negative consequences, as it not only ‘economically disadvantageous’ but also throws J&J into the limelight and gives us and many others a platform to question their ethics. We wouldn’t be discussing this topic today had J&J not made an ethical error.

    I completely agree with an earlier comment on how the US government needs to check its regulations and be penalised for giving J&J the go ahead in the first place. Both these bodies should be held responsible for damages. However, the decision to use talc as an ingredient for its US market, although ‘banned’ in other parts of the world was J&J’s. Surely, such a large name as J&J, with the finest researchers, engineers and doctors testing their products worldwide, you’d think they’d know their products inside out. If someone sat here and told me that no one behind J&Js closed doors knew their products were capable of detriment – I’d be quite nonplussed.

    From the looks of it however, J&J seem to have deontological ideas, but utilitarian way of going about achieving these ideas that contradict one another. The problem here also is, this isn’t the first time J&J have done something alike because had they followed and believed in their company values of “We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurse and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services”, they would have made changes long ago. So we can blame the government, and any other associated body, but only a revamp in J&J’s ‘ethical’ approaches and current work environment will solve any of their issues. They need to adapt a stronger deontological approach, and make sensible decisions that will them sustain their consumer market, and in return engage a profitable business.

    You’d also think the talc incident would be the last big thing coming for them. You’d be surprised.


  7. From the utilitarian point of view, we should definitely be concerned that J&J products which are potentially carcinogenic (although with no causation) are sitting on supermarket shelves accessible to everyone.

    However, J&J did abide by the laws and did not use any substances in their products deemed illegal in their respective regions. Perhaps they have compromised a few laws of conduct within their own company but the question that begs to be asked here is: what big corporation hasn’t? Though this article is only limited to J&J, I’m sure plenty of other international companies use “hush money”, loop-holes and other potentially illegal ways to maintain their reputation and maximize their profit. Moreover, there is a fine line between law and ethics and if we were to scrutinize every company for their wrongdoings and labeling, we wouldn’t have any products to spare.


  8. I do not think it is J&J’s fault or responsibility to remain ethical. That is for the regulatory commissions to ensure. If J&J are working within guidelines and keep getting away with fines that they can obviously afford then more fool the people complaining.
    Profits come first in business and the governments need the tax money just as much as the business needs profits. It is in the government’s/regulator’s interest to look as though they are punishing J&J whilst ensuring that they are not punished severely enough to damage business and cost 1000’s of jobs. Swings and roundabouts.

    If the UK leaves the the EU just see how many of these addition products containing talc enter the market as we would not be compelled to have them banned under EU legislation. The UK would, as USA has done, open the floodgates of this purely for financial gain, they can cover this by saying it has created x x amount of jobs and increases the market and competition, whilst really the main aim is getting more income via tax and some cynical people might say also some lovely donations into a certain political party’s coffers to allow the trade in the country. Isn’t it interesting that the EU bans 1372 compared to 10 in the USA. Would that suggest the US government lets them get away with it? Because of health insurance, cash etc.

    All in all if you think any major company cares about ethics over profit I would advise you otherwise, but if they can get away with it, then why wouldn’t they? J&J was fined $2.2b, a lot right? They made $15b worldwide that year, a slap on the wrist.. They will keep doing what they can afford to get away with because they know they are valuable to the government.

    A simple google search of ”Johnson and Johnson CEO” brings up Alex Gorsky and the first headline is ”new CEO allegedly had links to fraud” Ethical right? Must really care about Nurses, Patients and Doctors and not money..

    To put the last few paragraphs into a simple, bitesize chunk my thoughts are that J&J have no ethics, they care about money and why shouldn’t they? They just keep getting away with it, good luck to them.
    ”Don’t hate the player, hate the game”


  9. It could be argued that Deontology and Utilitarianism have direct links to politicals. A Utilitarianism approach fits very well with a capitalist society bent on making profits at any cost while Deontology would be more compatible with a utopian socialist society. While I am not suggesting that such a society exists (or is even possible), I would suggest that the more utilitarian an approach,, the more it would fit with capitalist society. It could even be argued it is a necessary approach for companies to prosper when they need to benefit share holders. All that said, there still needs to be a balance because a purely utilitarian company would find itself the subject of no end of law suits, especially in the culture of suing that seems to be the modern norm.


  10. As a company, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has done nothing seemingly illegally wrong, as they have adhered to the rule and regulations enforced by the regions they operate within. The main drive and purpose of a company is to be as profitable as possibly whilst minimising any pursuits that might lead to ‘non-obligatory’ spending. Take for example, eliminating talc from all J&J’s cosmetic products will require a significant budget modifying process and equipment in all their manufacturing bases and also placing warning labels on their products about a (not so conclusive) carcinogenic chemical will surely deter some customers, overall reducing profit. J&J and any other company would rather avoid such situation; therefore it is the duty of the regulatory bodies such as the FDA to implement stricter regulations in which companies are legally required to abide by.

    However as a cosmetic/pharmaceutical company, who manufactures and distribute product consumed (both internally and externally) by humans, it is of up-most importance that the deontological approach should be upheld, as the life of any individual should out way the compulsive urge to profit without caring about the impact it has on others. J&J portrays itself has having a deontological view but the $72m lawsuit and 1,200 cases suggest otherwise.

    Personally, I am infuriated by J&J for having little regard for human life since it relentlessly continues to manufacture products with talc, while being well aware of its potential health risk and although there is an alternative well established non-talc formulation for its products within the EU. Yes the process modifications might be expensive, however in the long run it will boost the company’s reputation and reinforce customer loyalty which in turn increases profit and lessons the risk of further lawsuits.

    To bring this to conclusion and answer the vital question raised by this article, big cooperation will always advocate the utilitarian approach because it is more lucrative and I accept that, but companies handling products that might be detrimental to human health should digress from a view, as this place little importance to our lives.


  11. If a company such as J&J publish a code of ethics then they must practise what they preach. Otherwise, they may as well throw the code of ethics in the bin.
    In this example, 1372 chemicals used in the talc are banned in the EU but J&J are still using these chemicals in their talc in other counties. This fact alone would urge even a layman to reevaluate the contents of the talc, never mind a company that proports to follow a published code of ethics.
    The capitalist ideology, which the vast majority of multi nationals adopt, combined with a society that consumes goods at en ever increasing pace, whilst expecting the lowest possible price, puts ethics very low on the list of priorities. However, the consumer is all too often unaware of the price they pay for cheap goods. I was certainly unaware of the issue surrounding talc. Regulatory bodies in every industry tend to have little power and suffer from a lack the resources. This makes self regulation and ethical values even more crucial. A code of ethics is a great idea but worthless if it’s never read by the board of directors.


  12. I think many corporations like J & J choose which ethical approach they take based on the most profitable outcome, which is not surprising when we live in a capitalist society. It could be said that deontologists use their ethical stance to market their products, for example items that are labelled Fair trade, sustainable, palm oil free, msc certified etc. However this ploy is only successful when the public has sufficient knowledge to buy into the issue.

    I’ve known that talc is harmful for a number of years alongside other ingredients such as BPA and micro-beads. I try and avoid these and others with contentious ingredients such as parabens which may or may not be harmful because I would rather be ‘safe than sorry’. So I applaud non-profit organisations that educate the public to take action against corporations by boycotting products or by prosecution.

    Yes, the government should have greater control, but again it is often the public who direct policy. So it is also our responsibility to be less ignorant and take control over the products we buy. Is Johnson & Johnson’s ethical approach questionable? Yes, but can you blame them?


  13. When sticking just to legalities, many ethically questionable actions are legally acceptable. Laws have loopholes within them too and this is a similar argument as is used to justify tax evasion. I would personally say the way J&J have behaved is unacceptable, they have put profits before customers and only changed that when they absolutely have to. A company which claims to be “the good guy” and to be corporately responsible should not be behaving in this way, and it is disgraceful to hear this, albeit not unexpected.


  14. Law and ethics aren’t the same thing, but law can be seen as a system of applied ethics, and certainly there is an ethical underpinning to base legal concept (if not specific laws as enacted.) “We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurse and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services” is an interesting statement. J&J is run by a board of directors, who are ultimately accountable for J&J’s actions. In both English law and under the state laws of New Jersey, where J&J are incorporated, the directors of a company owe a fiduciary duty to the shareholders. This is an equitable duty as well as a common law duty, and (in very simplistic terms) equity is the branch of the law which covers remedies for unethical actions.

    This means that the first ethical obligation of a company director is to act in the best interests of the company. There is a second legal duty to not break any regulatory statute law, and this is what ensures customer safety. Ethical principles will underpin the statute in question, but crucially this is not an equitable action and not a fiduciary duty. In a free-market economic system conditions are created to allow private companies to generate profit. The result of these two factors (free-market economics and fiduciary duty) is that the first responsibility of the board of directors isn’t to its consumers – it’s to take whichever action generates the most profit for its shareholders.

    It could therefore be argued that the utilitarian approach is not only acceptable ethically but required. However, that argument turns on the definition of ‘best interests’ as applied to the shareholders. Even when restricting the concept solely to that action which generates the most profit, some attempt still has to be made to quantify immediate loss of profit resulting from consumer perception of unethical action on the part of J&J. If we take a broader view of ‘best interests’ encompassing things like presumption of good faith on the part of regulatory authorities (avoiding loss of time due to audit), longer-term consumer support, and a positive working environment (in which employees feel that the actions of their employer are ethical, leading to retention of talent) then we see that it’s likely that J&J are able to make the argument that profit need not be the imperative.

    In other words – if J&J are truly committed to the primary ethical principle given above, then even with a utilitarian view of ethics they are free to choose the definition of best interests which suits this. Deontology and ethical systems with absolute values of right and wrong need not enter into the debate. J&J’s actions, however, very much suggest that their ethics are not as important to them as their bottom line. This fact underlines the need for state regulation within a free-market system on matters where the tension between public interests and greater profit induce private companies to act with regard primarily to profit rather than ethical ideals. It also underlines the need for consumer education and for individuals to understand the effect they can have by acting as a critical consumer.


  15. The utilitarian approach for J&J’s behaviour is one which many, if not the majority, of companies adopt, where increasing profit margins are their main priority. The article highlights that from J&J’s corporate opinion, their products benefit the majority, and only harm the minority, and therefore as long as they continue to this, there is no financial benefit for them to change.

    As someone who has eczema, I have used J&J’s products throughout my life, and it wasn’t until I read this article that I became aware of the harm these products could cause. Whether this is down to the corporation manipulating media coverage of the issue, or down to my role as a member of the public in becoming more educated and taking an ethical stance in the products I buy.

    As aforementioned in previous comments, J&J’s ethical approach to business has been questioned, with the consequence of insignificant fines being applied. Unless the consequences for unethical behaviour changes from financial penalties, to something more significant, such as further media coverage of the issues, or changes in product packaging, J&J will not change their behaviour. A balanced approach which adopts both the utilitarian and deontological view point, without compromising ethical views needs to be considered by J&J as they continue into the future.


  16. Though J&J is a company aimed at profit making, their customer satisfaction comes first. Similar to other companies, customers and clients are key to operation of business. In this situation, I don’t believe J&J have respected such philosophy. Especially when studies showed even the slightest correlation with ovarian cancer. In all fairness, J&J did abide by a utilitarian approach. If the product has brought about more good than harm, then why go through efforts to undergo a product change?

    It is sickening to think that a renowned company like J&J, built on years of consumer satisfaction and reputation, would belittle the value of life and also the lack of preparedness J&J has for adapting to new situations. But who’s to blame, the fact J&J manage to penetrate the loopholes of the system or the poor legislative powers that allowed such harm to happen?

    To finish off, I hope several other companies have learned from the ‘penny-wise, pound foolish’ approach this commotion brought to light. J&J has ended up spending a lot more in the compensation of this lawsuit compared to the small cost if the situation was to be tackled at an earlier stage when the issue was first identified.


  17. I would like to reiterate the comments regarding ethics and the law are by no means the same thing and as a company J&J are law abiding.
    In terms of the research which has identified the potential risks by the use of the products, yes people should be aware of the potential adverse effects of the use the products however people should be left to their discretion if they wish to continue using these products. This is all very new research and the potential risks are very low. These types of risks such as cancer and other diseases occur in many other instances of smoking, sun beds and alcohol consumption, yet these are risks people are willing to take daily. This therefore means it is up to the consumers discretion providing they are given all relevant Information regarding said products.


  18. In a perfect world all cosmetic/drug-producing corporations would by law have to be transparent in their actions and how they go about formulating all of their products with every product containing labels stating every possible piece of information. However, this is not the case as the current laws do not require this level of transparency from companies, as the governing bodies don’t deem this as necessary information that the public needs to know. The governing bodies determine the safest amount of a dangerous chemical that can be used in a product, and they specify what chemicals are banned completely and the companies then follow the rules laid out. So it is unfair to blame the companies such as J&J for using a cancer-causing chemical, as some of the blame should also fall on the people who could have made stricter rules and regulations on product development.
    While it is morally wrong that in some cases J&J are still using the carcinogenic materials in some countries but not in others, and that they are using “hush money” to stop the company from earning a bad reputation, the fact is that at the end of the day they are a business who have built a global brand from their signature product the baby powder – and it is very common for business to resort to these tactics. As it is not an essential product such as a medicinal drug, I feel that it is acceptable to allow J&J to continue take the utilitarian approach and to sell the product regardless of the carcinogenic material, as the side effects do not affect the majority. Almost all drugs and cosmetics can have adverse side effects on the user, so I think in this case it is up to the consumer to make an educated decision on whether they want to continue to use the product or not.


  19. The utilitarian approach seems to be the more practical option. Although, when a company is as large as J&J it should be using its benefits and size to improve the products safety as much as possible. However, more often than not profit driven firms overlook ethics if it will cost them money. Therefore, it is important for proper regulation to be enforced so that these companies are forced to provide additional funds to research for safer products.


  20. In the bigger picture, the utilitarian approach appears to be the more suitable approach as this would mean that a larger group of people would be able to benefit from the outcome which is the products. It is true that J&J is responsible for knowingly including carcinogenic substances into their formulation but considering that at the time when the formulations were first developed, the carcinogenic properties of the mentioned substances may not have been discovered yet. This is pretty much the case for every newly developed product where the emphasis is to ensure that the product meets its purpose. It is only in the recent years where more emphasis have been placed on the adverse effects that the products may bring about due to the increase in demand for customer awareness. However, J&J does have the responsibility to continuously improve on their formulation where possible and also to clarify any newly discovered findings which suggest that certain substances used in their formulation that may be harmful.


  21. It’s clearly challenging for a large organisation to take what would be perceived as a morally unimpeachable position within a largely free-market system. The article highlights the differing behaviour in two contrasting legislative environments: one broadly defined by demonstrating hazard, and the other by demonstrating safety; this plays a key role in determining the eventual outcome. A question that arises is, if one does formulate an opinion on this particular scenario, how consistent is that between different scenarios? If the benefit was more concrete than talcum powder, would one person’s life be an acceptable price to pay for the suffering of millions? If so, is the suffering of thousands an acceptable price to pay for reduced suffering of tens of thousands,… and so on. I’d be surprised if the broad issue discussed was something that people had a firm line on. This specific case may fall one side of a line, but the presentation of the arguments will also influence that.


  22. I am a strong believer in the utilitarian approach to ethical issues. I believe it should fall on the law making bodies to enforce any issues the Deontological approach raises. Since J&J are not breaking any laws I see no issues in a capitalist economy to take the highest profit while keeping the accepted standards that have been set.


  23. It really is hard to decide where I lie on this issue. Initially, it seems shocking that a brand that is so well known and often used on babies could have a detrimental effect on our health, but when you think about it, what products don’t seem to be dangerous nowadays? That doesn’t make it right, however. But without spending a lot of money on products that claim to be “all natural” and “harmful chemical free” it seems impossible to avoid products that aren’t good for us in one way or another. I guess it comes down to education of the consumer, most people think products are risk-free that aren’t. But who is responsible for this education? Should the company take on that responsibility or should the consumer? I don’t know if I have a clear answer, however, I do think it is important to ensure product transparency so that consumers can make responsible decisions for themselves. If consumers buy responsibly for their own health and avoid products with potentially carcinogenic ingredients in them, surely it will have a knock-on effect with companies needing to avoid these ingredients to get their products sold.


  24. Very interesting article, having both sides explained so well. In a company so big like J&J it’s not strange to find that they’ve been stuck to the deontological approach simply because it tends to be cheaper and faster. However, their code of conduct is utilitarian because that is the image that they want their (potential) customers to see. Not informing about the ingredients, or changing them after it was proved what these ingredients do.

    I have worked for a multinational before, and I can tell that in my case, the last thing they cared about was customers. J&J doesn’t act on what they preach, or so it seems. It would be pointless and a waste of effort and money to invest in more research and new ingredients because loyal customers will always be there, and a company with so many years of experience has the guarantee that will retain their customers and probable make new ones.

    Furthermore, J&J is one of the biggest animal tester companies, like Colgate and Unilever. I believe it’s illegal in Europe to do so, yet they do it because it is cheaper. Seems like ethics are not a thing to be considered by them.


  25. The article is very interesting. As of now, I agree with the utilitarian approach to ethical issues as it does more good than bad. However, we need to make sure these companies are not too profit focused and allowed to reign freely doing whatever they want, so in order to ensure the highest standards are kept and not sacrificed for profits, I believe the utiliarian approach must be balanced by stricter laws set by governments and enforced in full without bias. That is one of the only ways I feel competitive products still find their way on to the markets whilst still protecting (as well as possible) the lives of consumers.


  26. I agree with using the utilitairan approach if you aren’t a nonprofit organisation, or alternatively your business was founded specifically on an ethical or moral reason.

    So in essence J&J should have been looking to maximise their profits, and I don’t believe that they should change the contents of their products based on inconclusive findings. However given the ban of talc in europe I do feel they had a responsibility to further investigate.

    Ultimately it is the job of the world governments to make sure that businesses aren’t using bad practices. J&J should abide by the laws and if they are set up accordingly these kind of issues shouldn’t occur.


  27. I believe the utilitarian approach is morally inept and there are many ethical issues involved. It does not convey any sense of care towards those who would be adversely affected.
    For the sake of human health, the deontological approach is far more welcoming, as putting patients first has to be what is most important and beneficial both in the short and long-term.
    In conclusion, it is clear to see that J&J value the end result and bottom line far in excess of morals, which perhaps goes to show where many people are these days in terms of a ‘business first’ approach.


  28. It is quite shocking that J&J have knowingly used harmful chemicals in their products but they haven’t actually broken any legislations in the countries they operate in as far as I’m aware, and have changed the formulation to follow stricter EU regulations. Their products are still beneficial to many, and if J&J are not forced to change the composition of their products, using these harmful chemicals probably isn’t that much of a problem for them. Unless strict regulations are put in place, large companies will unfortunately always do whatever maximises their profit.
    Furthermore, there’s actually no causal link between the use of J&J products and ovarian cancer. You mentioned that several studies have reported a potential link between the use of talc an ovarian cancer, which probably isn’t enough for them to change their products. So many cosmetic products and even foods nowadays are reported to be linked with different diseases so unless we find an actual causal link between J&J products and ovarian cancer, we can’t blame them for wanting to do what is more profitable for them.
    To answer your question, I don’t think large corporations should compromise the lives of the few for the needs of the many but unfortunately, in a capitalist economy, most big multinational companies will adopt a utilitarian approach and prioritise increasing profit. It’s depressing and shouldn’t be like this but I really don’t know how this can be changed other than making stricter regulations and educating consumers.


  29. Firstly I believe that companies shouldn’t be too focused on making a high profit with products like this as today people are more concerned with the ethical impact of products than they used to be. It is up to Governments and other large bodies to keep companies in check over ethical practices.
    Secondly, the utilitarian approach needs to be controlled far more by bodies such as Governments otherwise companies will have free reign which should not be allowed.
    The article gave a very in-depth over view of J&J and both the utilitarian approach and the Deontological approach. Both descriptions offer in-depth analysis and which is easy to explain to the lay person.


  30. I agree with the utilitarian approach, I strongly believe consumers need to take more responsibility to educate themselves with the products they buy and use. Articles like this for example are thought provoking and an excellent way to educate and encourage us to make well informed decisions. Its evident that majority of the products out in the markets now a days come with a risk of some kind, but placing the blame rather than taking some sort of ownership for your own health and what you spend on seems ridiculous.
    Companies such as J&J should be transparent with what the products have in, this is a legal requirement regardless of it being ethical or not. The rest should lie in the hands of the consumers if they buy into that and profit the organisation. If J&J have used ‘harmful chemicals’ and haven’t broken the law, then maybe J&J isn’t the one to question. J&J have the right to do what they need whilst abiding by laws and regulations to make the profit in order to survive and be successful in this capitalist society. This article provides and interesting insight into contrasting viewpoints, its concise and very informative, more articles of this kind may also be the reason for a change, who knows.


  31. I would like to take sides with the deontological argument. I believe Johnson and Johnson are currently using Talc in their products because its the cheapest material available to enable them maximize profit not because there is no proven alternative. Some of their products have gone on to become household names and are seen as essential products all over the world.
    J and J are clearly violating their code of conduct “We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurse and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.” It appears that their code of conduct only applies to Europe! I personally believe that irrespective of our geographical location, race or believes we are all entitled to fair and equal treatment!
    If J and J sincerely believe that there is no alternative to Talc to keep their products at a reasonable price to enable more people to afford their products, then they should atleast be honest and straight forward with the public rather than being dishonest and putting the lives of people at risk!


  32. Reading this article has got me questioning the reputation of such a large and reputable conglomerate. On one side I agree with the utilitarian argument that justifies the use of talcum in their cosmetic products (primarily due to the inconclusive results from studies regarding the correlation of asbestos free talc and cancer). However, from a virtue ethics perspective, I believe that J&J should take measures to avoid using questionable chemicals in their products irrespective of the regulations varying from region to region. This will not only help improve the reputation of the conglomerate, but will also serve purpose if and when the use of these chemicals is prohibited in their regions of market.

    Furthermore, I believe the responsibility of adopting stricter regulations on harmful chemicals should be taken by the US/EU government to restrict/prohibit chemicals such as talc and formaldehyde. This will provide a base standard of quality across on cosmetic products (not only J&J) which will greatly benefit the health and safety of the users of such products.

    In the article, the term hush money is used. I believe this could be refereed to as a settlement offer to the plaintiff. Perhaps a source regarding the alleged attempt to bury evidence would provide a better understanding of this situation.

    In conclusion, I believe J&J should take strict action irrespective of law suits and government laws in order to protect its customer base from harmful heath related side effects.


  33. I have the following three points:

    1. At the risk of sounding pedantic, I do find this blog slightly confusing, but maybe I am missing something…. In one part of the blog, it states that there is no link between the use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer. But then later, there is apparently a strong link between the use of talc and ovarian cancer. Certainly, if the former is true, then both deontological and utilitarian approaches should lead to the same outcome: that is, it is safe to continue to use talc. Indeed, linking talc and carcinogens together in a sentence is not really ethical; ethics does not just apply to manufacturers but also to the dissemination of information as well!

    2. I am not quite sure why the link to ovarian cancer, and not other cancers as well. Indeed, despite knowing very little about oncology, I would have thought that if there are concerns about cancer and talc, an obvious link might be with skin cancer?

    3. Interesting background information might be the typical composition of talc, and how the suspect components happen to be present. Is it because they have been added, or perhaps these are residues from the manufacturing process. Compared to other healthcare products, especially pharmaceuticals, talcum powder is apparently a simple product: an adsorbent powder with fragrance placed on the skin to remove moisture. Surely, it cannot be difficult to achieve these two functions using “safe” components?


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