Despite facing a mountain of litigation over its talc products and pulling them off shelves in North America two years ago, Johnson & Johnson will continue to sell them in many markets around the world.
The decision was put to a vote of stockholders in J&J’s annual meeting on Thursday and failed (PDF) to receive the majority needed to discontinue sales of the products.
Plaintiffs have brought more than 40,000 lawsuits against the company—with more than 25,000 still outstanding—arguing that the company’s talc products cause cancer. The litigation already has cost J&J nearly $1 billion in legal fees and $3.5 billion on verdicts and settlements. In cases where J&J has lost at trial, the company has pledged to appeal.
In 2019, the FDA discovered traces of asbestos in samples of the company’s iconic baby powder, prompting a recall.
Less than a year later, the company halted sales of its baby powder and other products in North America. J&J said that the move was to allow its manufacturing facilities to produce high-demand medicines and to allow its workers to socially distance.
As the litigation has gained steam, J&J created a company to absorb its talc liabilities and declare for bankrupcty protection. J&J has established a $2 billion trust to resolve the claims.
“JNJ remains vulnerable to further erosion of its reputation as a trusted purveyor of health-related products by continuing to sell and market its talc-based Baby Powder to the rest of the world,” the proposal said.
The company’s board responded to the challenge, defending the product.
“The weight of the science does not support any claim that the talc used in JBP causes cancer,” it wrote.
One shareholder proposal that was passed by shareholders on Thursday was a racial justice audit. The proposal cited J&J’s marketing of baby powder to minority and overweight women which “are troubling,” the proxy read.