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Drugmaker wins battle with animal rights group

Stephen Beard May 10, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Over in London, one of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies spent the day in court. GlaxoSmithKline says it’s trying to protect smaller shareholders from harassment. An animal-rights group is trying to stop Glaxo from using the services of one particular testing lab. Marketplace’s Stephen Beard reports.

STEPHEN BEARD: The group sent letters to around 150 Glaxo shareholders. The letters warned that unless the investors sell their stock within two weeks, their names and addresses will be published over the Internet.

This is the latest phase in a long campaign against the Huntingdon animal testing lab which Glaxo and other drug companies use to test their products. Lab staff have been physically attacked. Crowds of protesters have turned up outside people’s homes.

Simon Festing of the Research Defence Society says the threat of the letters is obvious.

SIMON FESTING: This kind of bully-boy tactic of aggressive, threatening letters — and then, we know, they will target people in their homes — can be very distressing and is completely illegal.

But it has proved effective in the past. A similar tactic frightened every major bank in Britain away from doing business with Huntingdon. The company was driven to shift its headquarters to the US. But even the mighty New York Stock Exchange was cowed into cancelling plans to list Huntingdon’s shares.

Late last year, Glaxo’s boss, Jean-Pierre Garnier, condemned all companies that caved in to such pressure.

JEAN-PIERRE GARNIER: If you give in to blackmail on one issue, you are going to give in to blackmail on a lot of issues. I think those companies have not shown a lot of character in the way they have handled this threat.

Now his company has been targeted. But so far his 160,000 shareholders seem relatively unworried. As the whole stock market fell back today, Glaxo’s shares dropped by only 1 percent.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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