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When consumers lose power: An examination of the stakeholder dynamics in the pharmaceutical industry

Xudong Fu, PhD Tang, Z. Leo, E. Hull, C. Stromeyer, W.
Business Ethics, the Environment & Responsibility. April 26, 2023

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Primary stakeholder pressure has long been considered the main reason that firms engage in responsible behaviors. However, prior studies are generally silent on how industry characteristics reshape the relationships among stakeholders. By integrating information asymmetry in credence goods industries with the stakeholder power framework, we posit that the extent to which consumers can evaluate the qualities of goods alters the dynamics between a firm and its two primary stakeholders, regulators and consumers. Longitudinal data collected on 72 pharmaceutical companies indicate that consumers of pharmaceutical products can only influence firms indirectly through the regulator. Further, contrary to the conventional wisdom that innovative firms are more capable of resisting stakeholder pressure, we find that R&D investment increases the dependency of pharmaceutical firms on the regulator. Lastly, we do not find that lobbying reduces dependency on the regulator except for high R&D firms. These findings provide important theoretical, ethical, and policy implications.