E-DRUG: Netherlands TV documentary: the real price of cheap medicine
[The Dutch investigative journalists Jos van Dongen and Annette Schaetzle have
made 2 documentaries that expose some serious side-effects of generic
production in India. Although we are all happy about affordable prices, and
most generic products arriving in Europe are good quality, we should not ignore
the sustainability issues of reasonable wages and protection of the
environment. E-drug welcomes discussion on these programmes, which have been
translated into English. WB]
'Manufacturer of Dutch medicines exploit workers and pollute the environment'
The pharmaceutical company Aurobindo Pharma takes a reckless attitude towards
both people and the environment in India, according to experts interviewed in
this edition of ZEMBLA. Aurobindo, one of the biggest manufacturers of generic
drugs for the Dutch market, doesn't pay its employees enough and contravenes
health and safety regulations in its factories. ZEMBLA also shot footage at
multiple locations in India where Aurobindo and other pharmaceutical companies
have illegally discharged chemical effluent. As a result, the nearby residents
are exposed to health risks and the environment has been contaminated.
According to environmental and employment experts, companies like Aurobindo
ignore legislation in order to save money. 'They want to cut manufacturing
costs.' Aurobindo stated that they comply with local and international
Many of our medicines are made in India, which provides development
opportunities for the country. However, according to Prof. Prasad, a
sociologist at Hyderabad University, the local population and the employees are
paying a high price for our cheap medicines. 'People in developing countries
are being exploited.' Every day, over 60,000 boxes of Aurobindo medicines are
dispensed by Dutch pharmacies.
Poor working conditions
Research by ZEMBLA shows that trained Aurobindo employees earn less than the
minimum wage (between E150-E250 per month), with the technical staff claiming
to earn a monthly salary of around E110. 'It's only just enough to buy food,'
they explain. With a permanent contract, they would earn almost twice as much,
but Aurobindo employees are not given permanent contracts, even if they've been
working there for six years, or even ten years. 'If we complain, we lose our
The employees also report that Aurobindo is less than stringent when it comes
to employee safety. 'There is no safety equipment such as protective glasses,
gloves, masks, and safety shoes.' The Indian media report that in the last ten
years, many accidents have occurred in Aurobindo factories, resulting in at
least eight deaths and many more injuries. The firm told ZEMBLA that its
employees' wages are in compliance with all legal provisions. 'All employees
receive the same level of health and safety facilities,' according to Aurobindo.
Near the Indian village of Polepally is an Aurobindo factory that manufactures
drugs for the Dutch and other markets. Residents of the poverty-stricken
farming community were forced by the Indian government to move away in order to
make space for the pharmaceutical industry. The farmers were promised jobs with
Aurobindo, but they say Aurobindo will not employ them. 'The jobs are given to
migrant workers, as they are cheaper.' Aurobindo doesn't respond to questions
about the villagers' situation.
Aurobindo also violates environmental law. Documents obtained by ZEMBLA show
that in 2017, Aurobindo and other pharmaceutical companies were fined for
illegal disposal of chemical effluent. The pollution resulted in the death of
230,000 fish in the lakes near the factories. Local fishermen told ZEMBLA that
so far, they haven't received a penny in compensation. This isn't the first
time that pharmaceutical companies have released chemical waste into the
environment in order to cut costs.
Studies conducted by a variety of institutions - including the British
organization Changing Markets - show that Aurobindo was also illegally
releasing industrial effluent in 2016. In a water sample taken at an Aurobindo
factory, Changing Markets discovered a bacterium that is resistant to six
different antibiotics. Residents living near the Aurobindo factory in question
told ZEMBLA that dumping of these pollutants only stopped in December 2017.
Furthermore, teachers and pupils at a primary school next to an Aurobindo
production unit are suffering health problems due to air pollution from the
factory. The teacher at the school takes a very dim view of the situation. 'The
result of the pharmaceutical industry in India is that businesses make even
bigger profits while the people here get sick.'
Aurobindo is a major supplier of preferred medicines. Marie-Jose van Gardingen,
spokeswoman for the health insurer CZ, stated that the decision to purchase
Aurobindo medications was based only on price and not whether the drugs are
sustainably produced. 'This footage makes me feel sick. We must take it
seriously, it simply cannot be ignored.' CZ is considering possible measures
against Aurobindo. 'We have to look for alternatives, and I'm sure we'll find
CZ has announced that by 2019, it will require suppliers like Aurobindo to
provide a sustainability declaration. 'We want everyone we do business with to
sign a declaration stating that they fulfil their responsibilities with regard
to people, nature and the environment.' The health insurers VGZ, Zilveren
Kruis, and Menzis also purchase medicines from Aurobindo, but declined to
respond to our findings on camera. They stated that the situation must be
brought to the attention of Aurobindo and the government.
2nd Documentary "the bitter pill" on the quality of medicines
ZEMBLA broadcasted on 18 April another documentary on the quality of medicines
being used in Europe.
This Zembla documentary was partly shot in Germany and the last 20 minutes
focus on the generic medicines coming from India into Europe.
What is the quality of these pills coming from India?
Our conclusion is that we do not know because these medicines are not
structurally investigated by our European inspection services.
Links to English language documentaries:
The real price of cheap medicine:
The Bitter Pill:
If you know Dutch, try these:
De prijs van het goedkope medicijn:
De bittere pil:
Jos van Dongen
Journalist | ZEMBLA