, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 165–181 | Cite as

Global Pharmaceutical Markets and Corporate Citizenship: The Case of Novartis’ Anti-cancer Drug Glivec

  • Stefan Ecks


This paper analyses a remarkable transformation of global capitalism in recent years: that corporations claim to be ‘good citizens’ and are driven by higher aspirations than profits alone. It focuses on the lawsuit brought by the drug company Novartis against the Indian government over the patent for the anti-cancer drug Glivec. Novartis’ attack on Indian patent law caused an international outcry. Opponents of Novartis argued that the company was trying to destroy essential provisions in the Indian law that keep drugs affordable even after the country signed up to the World Trade Organization's agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). With reference to ‘the constitutional obligation of providing good health care to its citizens’, the High Court in Chennai, India, dismissed Novartis’ challenge in August 2007. While health activists celebrated the court's decision as a victory for anti-corporate citizens, this article argues that Novartis won a more important battle elsewhere: to protect its profits in European and North American markets. The article shows how claims to ‘citizenship’ were mobilized by both anti-Novartis and pro-Novartis groups, and how Novartis’ global corporate citizenship programme succeeded even when it seemed to fail.


Global Corporate Citizenship Health Activism India Pharmaceutical Industry Patent Laws Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) 



This article emerged from the collaborative research project ‘Tracing Pharmaceuticals in South Asia’ (2006–9) that is jointly funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Department for International Development (RES-167-25-0110). The project team comprises: Soumita Basu, Samita Bhattarai, Petra Brhlikova, Erin Court, Abhijit Das (South Asia Partner), Stefan Ecks (Co-Investigator), Ian Harper (Co-Investigator), Patricia Jeffery (Co-Investigator), Roger Jeffery (Principal Investigator), Allyson Pollock (Co-Investigator), Santhosh M.R., Nabin Rawal and Madhusudhan Subedi (South Asia Partner). Martin Chautari (Kathmandu) and the Centre for Health and Social Justice (New Delhi) provided resources and assistance drawn upon in writing this article. Neither ESRC nor DfID is responsible for views advanced here. Previous versions of this article were presented at ‘The Hidden Hands in the Market’ workshop at the University of Sussex, the ‘Constituting Citizenship through the Life Sciences’ workshop at the Edinburgh ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum, and at the ESRC-sponsored conference ‘Rethinking Economic Anthropology’ in London. I would like to thank the organizers and participants of these events, especially Geert De Neve, Jeff Pratt, Peter Luetchford, Jock Stirrat, Steve Sturdy, Steve Yearley, Sheila Jasanoff, Catherine Alexander, Deborah James, David Graeber and Jonathan Parry. Earlier drafts of the article benefited from perceptive comments by Soumita Basu, Petra Brhlikova, Sudip Chaudhuri, Erin Court, Akshay Khanna, Roger Jeffery, Allyson Pollock, Peter Redfield and an anonymous reviewer. Errors and omissions are entirely mine.


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Copyright information

© London School of Economics and Political Science 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stefan Ecks
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh, Adam Ferguson Building, George SquareEdinburghUK

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