Edited by Cornelia Ilie and Giuliana Garzone
[Argumentation in Context 10] 2017
► pp. 197–228
This study investigates the discursive strategies of self-legitimation enacted by pharmaceutical companies during the 1998 drug-access crisis debate in South Africa, framing them within the context of the then emerging discourse of corporate social responsibility. The crisis erupted when thirty-nine pharmaceutical companies sued the South African government for passing a law that permitted the production of generic drugs to fight the AIDS epidemics, in open defiance of international patent laws. Working from a pragmadialectic perspective embedded in a broader discourse analytical framework, the study reconstructs the arguments brought forth by the two parties in the debate on the basis of a close reading of legal and media documents produced in the course of the case. The difference of opinion at the heart of the debate – whether commercial rights of companies could be overridden in the name of higher-level human rights – was eventually resolved in favour of the human rights approach through voluntary withdrawal of the case on the part of the pharmaceutical companies. However, the clash of ideologies it unveiled has remained largely unresolved, and attempts to negotiate a position that may grant the pharmaceutical sector a license to operate while preserving its commercial mission continue to feature extensively in the CSR communication of the pharmaceutical industry. The analysis of the unfolding of the debate and the evaluation of the arguments brought forth in its course and of the underlying assumptions from which they descended highlight a number of crucibles which continue to be central to today’s CSR discourse, and suggest that argumentation theory has an important role to play in the public understanding of social and economic developments.