The African Centre for Corrective & Preventive Action (ACCPA) has filed a lawsuit against the American multinational corporation, Johnson & Johnson, regarding the sale of talc-based baby powder to Kenyans.
The rights group claims that while the product has been banned in certain countries such as the European Union and India, it is still being sold in Kenya.
In the petition focused on safeguarding consumer rights, the group alleges that Johnson & Johnson Services Inc utilizes “benzene and talc” in their baby powder products.
The group claims that benzene and talc cause cancer in humans and that “talc is contaminated by asbestos, a carcinogenic substance, causing exceedingly harm to its users”.
“There is scientific proof that benzene should not be used in the manufacture of drug substances, excipients, and drug products because of its unacceptable toxicity and deleterious environmental effect; In the context, the usage and sale of the Johnson & Johnson baby powder has been banned in the European Union, India and a number of African Countries including Tanzania, Zimbabwe and the Republic of Congo,” the group says.
The African Centre for Corrective & Preventive Action filed the suit at the High Court in Milimani Nairobi on Monday.
The group is seeking temporary orders to prevent J&J from further manufacturing, selling, importing, and distributing the Johnson & Johnson Baby powder in the Kenyan market.
It also wants permission to file a class-action lawsuit by inviting other individuals to join the court proceedings.
“There is sufficient evidence that Johnson & Johnson Services Inc and Johnson & Johnson (K) Ltd are aware of the severe and fatal results of their products. But they have ignored the fact and still continue manufacturing and selling these products to the masses including Kenyan citizens despite having compensated claimants in the United States of America by the Johnson & Johnson Services Inc,” reads the lawsuit.
However in a statement to Nairobi Wire, Johnson & Johnson stated that their baby powder is safe, denying the allegations that it contains any carcinogenic agents, in particular Benzene as alleged in the lawsuit.
“Johnson’s® Baby Powder is safe, does not contain asbestos or benzene, and does not cause cancer. We stand firmly behind the safety of the product which is backed by decades of independent scientific testing by medical experts around the world. There are no sound scientific studies that support these claims, and we will vigorously defend the safety of our products in the courtroom,” a company spokesperson stated.
While acknowledging that talc is an ingredient in J&J’s Baby Powder, the company stated that theirs is safe and does not cause cancer. They added that talc is a common ingredient in many everyday products including food like rice.
Johnson & Johnson further denied allegations that their Talc-based powder has been banned in several countries as claimed by the petitioners. They however acknowledged bans in Tanzania and Zimbabwe, expressing disappointment.
“We are disappointed in the actions recently taken in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. While we will voluntarily follow the directive on talc-based Johnson’s® Baby Powder, we do not believe the science supports a ban of these products.”
On the claims that the company is aware of severe safety issues attributed to this product, J&J called this ‘offensive’, stating that their rigorous testing support the position that talc is safe.
“The accusation that our company would knowingly make or sell a product that was not safe for consumers is not only false, but offensive. We only use ingredients that are deemed safe to use by the latest science.”
Explaining why the company settled in the US over a similar matter, Johnson & Johnson stated that settlements are common in the US, and are not necessarily an admission of guilt or liability, but rather a way of resolving litigation without a court judgment.
ACCPA has also sued the Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Health, the Kenya Bureau of Standards, and the Kenya Pharmacy & Poisons Board.
The case is currently awaiting hearing directions.
This article has been updated with a statement from Johnson & Johnson.