In 2019, Johnson & Johnson recalled some of its baby powder in the U.S. after the Food and Drug Administration found a bottle of the product that was tainted by asbestos. In 2020, J&J pulled baby powder from the U.S. market altogether over concerns about asbestos contamination.
According to the New York Times, over 40,000 lawsuits are on the books claiming that J&J’s baby powder and other talc-based products contain asbestos. Some of the lawsuits accuse J&J of knowing about the contamination for decades but still marketing baby powder aggressively, especially toward Black and overweight women for use in daily hygiene.
J&J spent $1.6 billion in litigation expenses last year related to the talc-asbestos claims. The year before, it set aside $3.9 billion.
Nevertheless, J&J insists that its products are safe and asbestos-free. Therefore, it continues to sell its talc products in other parts of the world.
Shareholder group urges J&J to pull its talc products worldwide
In light of the flood of litigation and the findings by the FDA, a group of shareholders presented J&J’s board with a resolution urging the company to stop selling baby powder and other talc products abroad. They presented the proposal at the company’s annual meeting, citing concerns that the asbestos-tainted talc could cause cancer in the people who use it.
One proxy advisory group told the board and investors not to vote for the resolution, although it urged them to remain aware of the potential risks.
Another proxy advisory group argued that “stopping all sales of talc-based baby powder could help to repair some damage to the company’s reputation and could prevent potential lawsuits, fines or penalties in markets outside North America.”
Unfortunately, the majority of J&J’s shareholders voted against the proposal. In other words, the company will continue to sell talc-based products outside of North America.
Another resolution did pass
Another group of activist investors also submitted a talc-related proposal at the recent annual meeting. Although it raised concerns about the talc-asbestos connection, it fell short of urging J&J to stop selling talc. Instead, it asks J&J to hire an outside auditor who will assess the racial consequences of the company’s policies in light of the allegations that it heavily marketed baby powder to African-American women.
Johnson & Johnson continues to insist that “decades of science have reaffirmed [talc’s] safety.” However, the company continues to be confronted with science that shows asbestos contamination in its talc.
Minnesotans who have developed mesothelioma or other cancers after using talc products on a routine basis should discuss their situation with a lawyer who handles asbestos disease cases.