Will J&J be forced to ban its talc globally?

By Julia Wray 7-Feb-2022

The personal care and healthcare giant is facing an attempt to force a shareholder vote on the issue over alleged links to cancer

Johnson & Johnson is facing an attempt to force a shareholder vote to withdraw its talc from store shelves globally.

The personal care and healthcare Goliath halted sales of its Baby Powder in the US and Canada in 2020 following thousands of lawsuits claiming its talc products contained cancer-causing asbestos.

Now, Tulipshare, a UK investment platform which allows customers to pool shares in order to meet the threshold to submit resolutions for shareholder votes, has submitted a proposal to J&J demanding the termination of global sales of the company’s talc-based powder.

The proposal has been submitted to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to consider if it is eligible ahead of J&J’s April annual meeting, reports The Guardian.

J&J’s lawyers, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, have written to the SEC asking that it exclude the shareholder resolution as ineligible because it could affect pending lawsuits in the US (both state and federal) and abroad.

J&J is, at present, facing more than 34,000 lawsuits but vigorously denies that any of the talc-related claims against it have merit, as they are based on the allegation that cosmetic talc causes ovarian cancer and mesothelioma, a position that company stresses has been rejected by independent experts.

In June 2021, the company lost a bid to overturn a Missouri jury verdict, which ordered it to pay out US$4.6bn to 22 women.

However, J&J’s legal fortunes fared better in H2 2021, with a Philadelphia state jury ruling in September that J&J’s talc products had not contributed to the ovarian cancer diagnosis of Ellen Kleiner.

This followed a similar outcome in August, whereby jurors in Illinois refused to hold J&J liable for a similar case in which the family of Elizabeth Driscoll, who died of ovarian cancer in 2016, had been seeking up to $50m in damages.

The company has also moved to protect itself from current and future talc lawsuits.

In October, J&J set up a new and separate subsidiary, LTL Management, to hold and manage claims in cosmetic talc litigation, which immediately filed for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

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According to J&J, the filing was intended to resolve all claims related to cosmetic talc, but it came under criticism from some quarters, who claimed that the move, dubbed a ‘Texas two-step’, would limit compensation for victims.

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