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Open Access Publications from the University of California

"The Big WHY": Philip Morris's failed search for corporate social value.

  • Author(s): McDaniel, Patricia A
  • Malone, Ruth E
  • et al.

We examined Philip Morris USA's exploration of corporate social responsibility practices and principles and its outcome.

We analyzed archival internal tobacco industry documents, generated in 2000 to 2002, related to discussions of corporate social responsibility among a Corporate Responsibility Taskforce and senior management at Philip Morris.

In exploring corporate social responsibility, Philip Morris executives sought to identify the company's social value-its positive contribution to society. Struggling to find an answer, they considered dramatically changing the way the company marketed its products, apologizing for past actions, and committing the company to providing benefits for future generations. These ideas were eventually abandoned. Despite an initial call to distinguish between social and economic value, Philip Morris ultimately equated social value with providing shareholder returns.

When even tobacco executives struggle to define their company's social value, it signals an opening to advocate for endgame scenarios that would encourage supply-side changes appropriate to the scale of the tobacco disease epidemic and consistent with authentic social value.

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