Should exercise classes be funded by soda companies? Or addiction programmes, by opioid companies? Public bodies across the globe are partnering with corporations to address obesity, the opioid epidemic, and other pressing public health problems. Often, corporate “partners” are contributing to the very problems that governments are trying to solve. We are told industry must be part of the solution. But is it time to challenge that claim?
Jonathan H. Marks argues that public-private partnerships create “webs of influence” that undermine the integrity of public health agencies and distort health policy and research. These collaborations also frame public health problems and their solutions in ways that protect and promote the commercial interests of corporate “partners.” We should expect multinational corporations to develop strategies of influence as far as the law allows. But public bodies can and should develop counter-strategies to insulate themselves from influence.
Marks does not argue that governments are inherently good and corporations inherently evil. Both are capable of good or ill! But, drawing on his legal experience and expertise, he makes a compelling case that they should be kept mainly at arm’s length: separation, not collaboration. He also calls for a new approach in public health that avoids the perils of partnership.
Jonathan H. Marks is a bioethicist and barrister, and the author of The Perils of Partnership: Industry Influence, Institutional Integrity, and Public Health (Oxford University Press, 2019). This book will be available on the day.
He is currently director of the Bioethics Program at Penn State University in the U.S., and an academic member of Matrix Chambers, London and Geneva.