Merck CEO calls on private industry to 'stabilize society' amid racial injustice, economic downturn

In a tumultuous 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and simmering racial protests have exposed gaps between the ideal America some of its citizens see and the real America on the ground. Few voices have captured that difference more clearly than Merck & Co.'s CEO Ken Frazier—and now Frazier is calling on corporate America to take a stand. 

In a Tuesday panel convened by Forbes, Frazier highlighted the role that private corporations play in driving societal change and said it was time for industry to step up to the plate to "stabilize society" amid rising economic inequity and racial injustice. 

"I think it's really critically important for us to not only think about what’s good for our individual businesses but what’s also good for the societies in which our businesses operate," Frazier said. "What makes me worry ultimately, is when people don't believe in our institutions, and they don't believe in our system, they don't believe there’s fundamental fairness, then I think our society begins to come apart.”

As COVID-19 continues to hamstring the U.S. economy, Frazier pointed out racial gaps in employment and healthcare for Black Americans, saying companies need to do more to level the playing field.

"I think what (COVID-19) has done is it’s forced us to confront the huge disparities that characterize our society and should cause us to take bold actions aimed at achieving social justice and health equity and other things of that nature," Fraizer said. 

In the days after the Minneapolis police shooting of George Floyd in May, Frazier—one of few Black executives in biopharma—has emerged as a leading voice, and moral authority, in the industry's response to systemic racism and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

RELATED: Merck CEO Frazier says COVID-19 vaccine hype a 'grave disservice' to the public