Toronto Metropolitan University
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Communicating access and transparency in corporate social responsibility reports: GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi

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posted on 2021-06-10, 20:43 authored by Richard Francella
The pharmaceutical industry has a long history of controversial business practices relating to unfair pricing models and ethical misconduct. As a result, companies have tried to use Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to build organizational legitimacy. This Major Research Project assesses the priorities being communicated within the CSR reports of two pharmaceutical companies – Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) – following the 2013 bribery scandal in China, in which Sanofi’s business practices were investigated and GlaxoSmithKline was found guilty of misconduct. By using Kenneth Burke’s concept of terministic screens, this project examines how terminology is used (or not used) to address structural problems and to deflect or direct stakeholder attention. This analysis uses CSR literature pertaining to the pharmaceutical industry, rhetorical theory and the notion that communication can be constitutive of an organization as the basis for analysis. By examining the use of two major terministic screens, “access” and “transparency”, it is clear that both companies prioritize communicating access over transparency. With regards to addressing access, Sanofi and GSK highlight philanthropic commitments rather than the initiatives pertaining to pricing policy. Through the use of transparency, GSK emphasizes their commitments to openness of information and enforcement equally. In contrast, Sanofi uses transparency to point the reader towards more reactive initiatives relating to enforcement and compliance. By using Burke’s concept of terministic screens, it is clear that both companies have selected their terminology to guide readers through a carefully selected path in which attention is diverted away from larger structural problems such as inadequate global medication pricing and transparency strategies.





  • Master of Professional Communication


  • Professional Communication

Granting Institution

Ryerson University

LAC Thesis Type

  • MRP

Thesis Advisor

Dr. Schryer

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    Professional Communication (Theses)



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