Pursuit of Social Legitimacy - A Case Study on Rhetorical Strategies Used by the Six Largest Pharmaceutical Companies to Restore Social Legitimacy


Publication date



Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences

Document type


Master i International Social Welfare and Health Policy


Legitimacy has become one of the most critical issues for corporations, and especially for the global pharmaceutical industry, which is facing a fading reputation and increasing industry mistrust. Over the past few years pharmaceutical corporate social legitimacy has been threatened due to ethical misconduct such as kickbacks, unethical marketing, fixed pricing, and extensive use of patents. This has led to a civil society demand of scrutiny of pharmaceutical conduct, resulting in an upsurge of ethical corporate guidelines. The main aim of this case study is to gain a better understanding of rhetoric strategy used by the six largest global pharmaceutical companies in their codes of conduct to restore social legitimacy. The purpose is to analyse the discourse in their communicated codes, and to grasp the essence in their publicised documents, which have arguably been constructed as a trust-gaining strategy. In this way, the case study will illuminate how the codes of conduct are used to restore social legitimacy. This assessment could shed light on the codes of conduct as mere “window dressing”, a way of portraying the companies as more ethical than they are. On the other hand, codes of conduct as representing a core strategic document empowering the ethical corporate conduct of these pharmaceutical companies. This case study analyses the public available codes of conduct of the pharmaceutical companies using rhetoric analysis to find the key rhetoric arguments used to restore social legitimacy. By using Castelló and Lozano (2011) framework, eleven key arguments were found, linked to three different forms of rhetoric in the corporate discourse: strategic, institutional, and dialectic. Each of these forms of rhetoric refers to different forms of legitimacy. In addition to the rhetoric analysis, a determination of code of conduct typology was carried out. This research suggests that the pharmaceutical codes of conduct contain three forms of legitimacy: pragmatic, cognitive and moral. In turn, these were found to be a mixture of rule-based and principle-based codes of conduct. As supported by contemporary literature, a tendency of increasingly communicating moral legitimacy is proposed found in this study to restore social legitimacy.




Permanent URL (for citation purposes)

  • http://hdl.handle.net/10642/4774