Public-private partnerships related to food and health are quickly becoming a hot topic within the public health sector.
In this must-read paper, Jonathan H. Marks (Fellow at the Edmond J. safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University; Director of the bioethics program at Penn State University; Associate Director of the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State University) highlights the many concerns that come into play when industry partners up with government and non-profit organizations by employing an “institutional corruption” framework to critically assess these partnerships.
As Mr. Marks explains:
“The institutional corruption framework helps capture and unite some of the systemic concerns about public-private partnerships that have already been identified in the scholarly literature. These include the subordination of institutional values, mission reorientation, weakened capacity to promote regulations and monitor compliance, displaced organizational priorities, and self-censorship.”
We can certainly spot some of those in the way the Academy conducts itself and the messaging it delivers to the general public (has anyone ever come across a recommendation by the Academy to not drink soda, for example?).
Mr. Marks continues:
“Additional systemic conerns with research partnerships related to food and health include: a) the ways in which this research reinforces industry-favorable framing of social problems (for example, emphasizing individual responsibility for obesity rather than social and environmental determinants of health, b) systemic bias toward technological solutions that may be readily commercialized, and c) other systemic effects on the design of studies, and the interpretation and dissemination of findings.”
Mr. Marks also makes the excellent point that “when such partnerships are formulated, the participants tend to emphasize synergies between the missions or goals of the public and private partners.” He goes on to state that “the missions of public and private sector actors usually diverge in significant ways. Consequently, these partnerships can have serious implications for the integrity and trustworthiness of public officials and institutions, and for trust and confidence in those officials and institutions.”
The body of academic literature that points out the many inefficacies of public-private partnerships only continues to grow. And, inevitably, organizations that stubbornly insist on maintaining the status quo come across as out of touch and inflict some real harm on their reputation.