Healthcare company Johnson & Johnson is facing an attempt to force a shareholder to vote to stop its sales of talc-based baby powder around the world, including the UK, amid concerns over links suspected with cancer.
Johnson & Johnson (J&J) withdrew its talc-based baby powder from sale in the United States and Canada in 2020. Baby powder sales had plummeted after U.S. regulators detected carcinogenic chrysotile fibers, a type of asbestos, in a sample.
The company now faces more than 34,000 lawsuits, including many from women who claim they used baby powder and later developed ovarian cancer.
Shareholder voting was offered by Tulipshare, a London-based investment platform that allows clients to pool their shares to meet the threshold for submitting resolutions to shareholder votes. The proposal has been submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Committee (SEC) to determine whether it is eligible ahead of J&J’s annual meeting, likely to be held in April.
Talc, the world’s softest mineral, is mined in several countries, with uses in industries as diverse as paper, plastics and pharmaceuticals. The astringent properties of talc mean that it is used to treat diaper rash and for other personal hygiene purposes.
However, talc deposits can sometimes be contaminated with asbestos, a mineral that can cause cancer if its fibers enter the body. Corn starch can be used as a substitute.
J&J strongly denies its baby powder is harmful and said it only withdrew the product in North America after a sales slump “fuelled by misinformation about product safety”. A spokesperson pointed to a 2020 cohort study that found no statistically significant increased risk of ovarian cancer with talc use.
A spokesperson said: “We stand behind the ingredients we use in our products, and Johnson & Johnson has implemented a rigorous testing standard to ensure the safety of its cosmetic talc. Not only is our talc regularly tested to ensure it does not contain asbestos, our talc has also been tested and confirmed to be asbestos-free by a range of independent laboratories, universities and global health authorities .
The deluge of legal claims “has no valid scientific basis”, the spokesperson said.
Attorneys for J&J, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, have written to the SEC asking it to exclude the shareholder resolution as ineligible because it would affect pending lawsuits in state and federal courts in the states. United States and other countries, including “thousands of personal injury claims alleging that talc causes cancer”.
J&J has already spent billions on costs and settlements, including a $2bn (£1.5bn) judgment by a Missouri appeals court in favor of 22 breast cancer plaintiffs. ‘ovary. In October, J&J transferred potential liabilities for talc products to a separate company, which then went bankrupt in a highly controversial move that could limit its financial exposure.
Ian Lavery, a Labor MP, sponsored a motion in Parliament last year condemning J&J’s “hypercritical and unjustifiable” decision to continue selling talc products outside North America. Lavery said he welcomed the attempt to force a shareholder vote.
“It is shocking that products which we know can cause serious illness through asbestos contamination are still available for purchase in the UK, or anywhere in the world for that matter,” he said. he declares.
“Any action taken against Johnson & Johnson, which continues to profit generously from the sale of this harmful substance despite knowledge of its potential effects, is welcome in my book.”