Explore an unofficial Novartis campus tour, online and in-person. Seven selected sites will be the backdrop for resources and discussion of: lack of intersectionality in clinical trials, the “othering” in healthcare of bodies that are not cis men*, the data gap in medical research on FLINTA persons and what the future of equitable healthcare looks like under capitalism.
(Disclaimer: this activity is unaffiliated with Novartis Pharma AG)
Joint Hiking Tour:
Monday, March 6, 2023, 5 p.m.
In front of Volta Bräu
Voltastrasse 30, 4056 Basel
Within the framework of Gira Furiosa, an action week to fight violence against genderqueer & trans, inter, non-binary, agender people and women*, our first in-person hiking tour will take place on Monday, March 6 at 5pm. We will meet in front of Volta Bräu and start our 90-minute tour from there, followed by an exchange over tea and coffee inside Frank O. Gehrys Cloud Building.
Registration is not required.
Independet Hiking Tour:
Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Novartis Campus, Fabrikstrasse 2, 4056 Basel
Get your Map:
At "Kult Bäckerei"
Elsässerstrasse 43, 4056 Basel
We encourage you to take the tour on your own - head to the Novartis Campus alone, in pairs, or with a group of friends and discover the tour from a queer feminist perspective!
The Campus is open Monday through Friday between 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and can be explored independently with the help of our website and analog map. In the bakery "Kult" you will find our walking tour map with QR codes and detailed route description next to their flyer section. All information about the 7 stations can then be found on the website. In combination with the analog map you should have all the information you need to explore the campus detached from a guided tour.
To begin, some information about our wording and terminology of gender-inclusive writing: In the following text, reference is made to biological, as well as social science, studies that have examined gender issues in medical, pharmaceutical and economic fields. Especially the medical studies mostly refer to a binary understanding of biological sex and do not include social forms of gender, such as non-binary or trans*. In such studies, when a classification of "woman" or "man" is made, the reference is either to individuals with female* reproductive organs (such as a uterus, ovaries, vulva, etc.), or to those without. When we refer to or cite such studies or literature, we use the following notation: "female/female" or "male/male". In all other parts of the text, we will try not to make gendered attributions. If, due to a particular context, gender labeling is useful for purposes of understanding, we will write these nouns with an asterisk at the end of the word, the so-called "gender asterisk". Thus: woman*/female* or man*/male*. This spelling is intended to include all people who identify as the respective gender, regardless of their assigned sex at birth. We will use a similar spelling for job titles, such as doctor*, to make clear that the particular job can be performed by a male*, female*, as well as trans*, non-binary, intersex people, and others. Studies have shown that most people think otherwise in a predominantly binary way and, depending on society's stereotypes, either almost exclusively of men* or of women*, which continues to perpetuate these stereotypes. (Cf. Stahlberg/Sczesny 2001) At this point we would also like to mention that trans* and intersex people in particular are almost completely excluded from medical or pharmaceutical studies. As we will find out later, those who receive most attention are cis men*.
Are you unsure what certain terms mean and where exactly the difference between "sex" and "gender" lies? Then we suggest you take a look at the following page, which provides helpful and precise definitions of the various terms: Human Rights Campaign
1 "Because progress starts being open"
Location: After Entering the Campus, right next ot the official Campus Map
While many are still in the midst of the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, paying off failed side jobs and increased home office heating bills, Novartis initially emerged stronger from the pandemic. Last year, as Swiss newspapers headlined, the company generated a profit of merely $7 billion, significantly less than in previous years. (Novartis 2022, Blick 2023) But no need to worry, in 2022 Novartis was still ranked the 6th largest pharmaceutical corporation in the world, with annual sales of $51.6 billion according to Forbes. (Forbes 2022)
But enough with this cherry-picking, what matters is: Novartis is doing well, perhaps even too well. The company may have realized that in times of pandemics and global energy crises, profits do not necessarily generate sympathy. And sympathy points, or at least a positive image and media coverage, which distract from the minor injustices of wealth distribution, seem to matter to Novartis. The corporation wants to give something back, it seems. In October 2022, Novartis opened its company-owned campus to the public.
We happily accept this invitation of “being open” with open arms! We are looking forward - whether virtually or on site - to make our laps through the campus, engage with the corporation, take a closer look at the Swiss pharmaceutical industry, and to reinterpret the industry's grand narratives through queer feminist critique and intersectional perspectives.
Location: Koi Pond / In Front of the Visitor Center
Here we are, surrounded by architectural mega-buildings by 15 international architects* that were invited by Novartis to create a city within a city, “a campus area for research, with innovation, knowledge and meetings”. (Sweco Architects) We are among works of art by some of the greatest artists* of our time, such as Jenny Holzer, Richard Serra and Olafur Eliasson. And right next to a very large koi pond filled with Japanese decorative carps. Supposedly, koi are among the most expensive fish in the world, with prices of up to several thousand euros per fish. But there are also cheap varieties from Europe, which Novartis may have resorted to in order to recover the probably very high energy costs for the pond. We can only assume. According to speculation and rumor, the pond was constructed, only for it to have to be completely re-done when realized that it did not contain a heating system for the fish in winter. Long story short: We are thrilled by this semi-public, semi-private campus and past media reports about a possible tax evasion of the company, (SRF 2013) a corruption scandal in Greece (Pharma. Zeitung 2018) and Italy (Luzerner Zeitung 2012) or the accusation of Polish homeless men* that drug tests were performed on them without knowledge (Deutschlandfunk 2017) are long forgotten.
At our next stop, the "Curie Street", we will gain insights into the historical development of Basel's educational system as well as into the position of women* in economy and pharmacy.
Basel has always been a city characterized by trade due to its favorable geographical location on the Rhine. This trading character was also a reason why education was made available to broader sections of the population at an early stage. As early as the 15th century, young men* from influential and wealthy families were sent to foreign regions to learn the language and culture of their trading partners. (Ammann 1928) This was followed in the 17th century by sending the first young women*. A practice that was actually contrary to the position of women* in society at the time, as they were mostly limited to the private and domestic sphere. However, in keeping with patriarchal manners, it was hoped that the education of young women* would improve their chances on the marriage market. In the 18th century, this form of education was then made available to other social classes, and exchange visits by Basel children and youth with those from families in French-speaking Switzerland became a typical part of education at the time. (Küttner 1785/86)
However, it took several decades before women* were regularly admitted to study. The first female* student admitted to the University of Basel was Emilie Frey, who studied medicine from 1890 and received her doctorate in 1896. (Bieder 1928) In 1904, women's* studies were anchored in the university law, despite the persistence of male* professors who put forward the most abstruse arguments why women* were not suited to study: logical thinking was not possible for them (Studer 1988), they possessed a lower mental capacity and, on top of that, a corrupting influence on their fellow male* students (Historisches Seminar 1991). In the end, it took until 1937 for female* students to be given equal legal status in the university law - less than100 years ago. (Ibid.) And it was not until 2002 that for the first time more than half of the students* at the University of Basel were women*. (Wecker/Wenger 2010)
Parallel to the study of women*, the field of pharmacy developed at the university. As one of the oldest academic disciplines, botanical and medical lectures were made available to pharmacists* for the first time in 1460, and "ars pharmaceutica" was finally established as an independent subject in 1776. (Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Basel) We can find this information on the official website of the University of Basel, where, curiously, exclusively the masculine form is used when referring to pharmacists*, although it is already mentioned in the third paragraph that "the study of pharmacy [...] was soon dominated by women". (Ibid.)
3 Pharmaceutical & Educational Feminist Histories
Location: Curie Street
In the pharmaceutical industry itself, the situation is similar: while at the beginning only 10.4% of the Novartis workforce identified as female*, today it is 45%. (swissinfo) Recently, the Novartis website even talks about a 51% female* workforce, as well as 47% women* in management and 31% on the Board of Directors*. (Novartis 2023) Novartis is included in the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index 2023, (Bloomberg) is on Forbes list of the "World's Top Female-Friendly Companies (2022)" (Forbes) and grants fathers* 18 weeks of fully paid parental leave after the birth of a child. And, "Equality is not just about gender, but should apply to all birth and non-birth parents, including adoption - including same-sex couples - and any surrogacy, if allowed in the country," according to a statement. (BaZ 2019)
The company might have learned something from 2010, when it was sued by several women* in the U.S. for discrimination. A court in New York had ruled in favor of the Novartis employees* on all counts, who had complained of being passed over for promotions, paid unequally and discriminated against due to pregnancy. (Spiegel 2010) In fact, a person's sexual reproductive capacity still seems to be one of the main criteria for gender pay gap:
"Those responsible in companies often have a tendency, whether consciously or unconsciously, to hire and promote fewer women. This is because they fear, especially in the case of younger women, that they will sooner or later become pregnant and then be absent for a certain period of time. Since childcare and child-rearing are still mostly the responsibility of the woman, there is a high probability that she will continue to work part-time later on, which influences the recruiters when they hire her"
Sociologist Benita Combet (Out & About 2022)
4 (Post)colonial Legacies
Location: The Physic Garden
We are here in "The Physic Garden", a structural installation by landscape architect Thorbjörn Andersson. The garden is home to 32 different species of medical plants and directly references the campus' historical connection to a Celtic settlement. (Sweco Architects)
The history of the pharmaceutical industry and its close links with imperialist and colonial structures, as well as the ongoing mechanisms of exploitation, are certainly worth exploration. At the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th century, many religious refugees came to Basel during the Christian Reformation. They not only had a high level of education but also good trade relations abroad and thus boosted Basel's economy. (Röthlin 2000) Due to the influence of the refugees, the silk and ribbon trade developed and became one of Basel's most important economic sectors. The significant contribution made by workers* in this field is illustrated by the fact that in the 18th century, the Basel government even forbade these workers* and merchants* to emigrate, as it was feared that foreign competition would gain strength. On one hand the migrants'* labor contributed significantly to Swiss wealth, on the other people from other regions of the world were exploited by the same industry. Although Switzerland has never had its own colonies, it has benefited from the colonial policies of other countries and from the slave trade.
“The textile companies also invested their wealth in the slave trade. Records show that between 1783 and 1792, Basel-based textile firm Christoph Burckardt & Cie held shares in 21 slave ship expeditions that transported around 7,350 Africans to the Americas. Much of the prosperity in Swiss textile hubs around Geneva, Neuchâtel, Aargau, Zurich and Basel was linked to the slave trade.” (Swissinfo 2019)
As part of this textile industry, the dyeing of fabrics played a major role, which is why dyes were increasingly produced in the 19th century, an industry from which the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors would later develop. (Hansen 2007) In addition to these colonial entanglements of the predecessors of the pharmaceutical companies, racist and (post)colonial structures also play a role in the industry's profits up to the present day. Due to the monopoly and patents that individual companies hold on drugs that are essential for survival, the prices of these drugs go through the roof. For patients from countries with low average incomes, such pricing processes are life-threatening. In the wake of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the late 1990s, when South Africa tried to resist the monopolization of essential medicines and passed a law allowing access to cheaper generic drugs, the country was sued by a number of companies, including Novartis and Roche. (Swissinfo)
“During the three-year legal battle, the industry closed color shops and reduced investments in the country. Meanwhile, South Africa had the highest HIV infection rates in the world. Faced with public outcry and pressure from the World Health Organization, the EU and the U.S. government, the companies eventually dropped the lawsuit.”
These inequities are compounded by the fact that "in low- and middle-income countries [...] about 28 million people die from chronic diseases every year, according to Novartis, representing 75 percent of these deaths worldwide." (Handelszeitung 2015) For that reason, Novartis decided in 2015 to make some medicines that help treat common diseases more affordable for such countries. But whether "Novartis Access," as the program is called, can make up for the ongoing exploitation remains more than questionable.
5 Manufacturing - A historical outline on Ecological Impacts
Location: Next to the Rhine
At this location, you may look across the Rhine towards the Novartis Klybeck campus. The 280,000m2 area has been the site of industrial production for decades. In 1887, pharmaceutical production began in the Klybeck industrial zone. Basel established itself in the 17th century in the silk ribbon trade, followed by synthetic dyes in the 19th century. From the late 19th century a pharmaceutical shift took place and several of these companies started producing medical substances. In a matter of decades pharmacy became one of the biggest industries in Basel. In 1996, two of the most important companies, Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy, merged to form Novartis, which together with Roche made Switzerland an important location for the pharmaceutical industry.
"In 1980, the share of the pharmaceutical industry in the gross value added of the Swiss economy was around 1%. Today it is around 5%. In 2020, almost 45% of all Swiss exports were pharmaceuticals."
Geographically well situated as a border town with France and Germany and direct access to the Rhine, Basel was particularly suitable for the chemical and later pharmaceutical industry. The river was already used by the forerunners of the pharmaceutical industry, the silk and the chemical dyeing industry for trade, but also for the disposal of toxic waste.
“On November 1 1986, a fire in the Sandoz (owned by Novartis) plant in Schweizerhalle contaminated the Rhine with pollutants, causing environmental damage as far as the Netherlands. The destroyed warehouse contained over 1000 tons of insecticides and pesticides. The accident turned the Rhine red, killed thousands of fish and caused acidic smoke to pass over the city of Basel. No member of Sandoz management was held accountable. It was only years later, Novartis agreed to pay Switzerland and other affected countries damages of 43 million CHF.”
Following public demonstrations, new safety and environmental protection measures were introduced. However, dangerous types of production still exist, but have been outsourced to other countries such as India or China. (Tagesanzeiger 2011) This decision was probably made not only to save labor costs, but also to reduce environmental expenses. Dr. Peter Donath, former Head of Environmental Affairs at Ciba, said in an interview with geographer Dr. Martin Forter that in his time “is was not uncommon for 15 to 20 percent of the production costs to be environmentally-related - that really is significant if they’re taken out. In China, these environmental costs account for perhaps just five per cent.” (Martin Forter 2011)
Nowadays, these countries face the difficult task of adequately disposing of toxic waste, which often results in the contaminants entering the water cycle and causing long-term damage to the environment. As a result, the experts' conclusion about the environmental policy of Basel's companies is not a favorable one: Dr. Peter Donath concludes that “considering the way the industry produces chemicals in Asia today, one unfortunately has to conclude that “Schweizerhalle” had no lasting effect.” (Ibid.) This evaluation is also supported by a large-scale study that examined the climate protection promises of 25 of the world's largest companies and came to the conclusion that Novartis' promises can only be rated with "very low" integrity. (Süddeutsche 2022)
Pharmaceutical manufacturing is uniquely positioned as an essential for healthy lives. This indispensability may be one of the reasons why the pharmaceutical industry can afford such environmental scandals without facing long-term consequences. While multimillion dollar fines are paid, local improvements are made, and safety standards are met, the extra costs are recouped by outsourcing production and responsibility to countries that do not meet those standards, whether for the environment or for their workers*. In such decisions and the structures behind them, it becomes once again apparent how the aftermath of colonial and imperialist power relations continue to shape the lives of many to this day.
The pharmaceutical industry shapes our understanding of health, driving narratives of what is deemed as healthy or unhealthy through advertising, non-commercial partnerships and health care provider engagement. Through this process, health policy in Northern countries tends to assume a single body responds in a predictable way to chemical compounds (Epstein 2007). Pharmaceuticals and biologics are mutable and context dependent, performed in context-specific methods to produce specific knowledge and outcomes (Johnson 2017). The majority of existing scientific research prioritizes the body of the able bodied, white, cisgender male*. For example, Mary Rawlinson’s concept of the invisible gendering of the universal is described in relation to cardiovascular disease (CVD) in women* by Sheridan Prior (2022):
"In feminist literature the idea that women experience ‘atypical’ symptoms is often interrogated using Rawlinson’s concept of the invisible gendering of the universal. If the male body is the universal body, then the female body is aberrant and symptom profiles experienced solely by female bodies are defined as atypical. The ‘atypical’ narrative in cardiovascular disease (CVD) is particularly fascinating given it has been conclusively demonstrated that most women experience ‘typical’ CVD symptoms, in particular chest pain. In CVD, the construction of the female body as ‘exceptional’ overrides the actual symptoms women present to clinicians, a form of gender essentialism described as an “exaggeration or construction of difference between female and male bodies in ways that compromise health and/or cause inequity in care”
(Thompson and Blake 2020, 23)
The idea of gender as binary is entrenched in pharmaceutical research. Research subjects are sexed, viagra pills are blue and hormonal birth control is pink. Relying on an understanding of binary sex wherein bodies belong to one of two categories in research, practices of pharmaceutical knowledge generation disregard the ‘atypical’ or ‘exceptional’ (Prior 2022). Bodies are not standardized, yet pharmaceutical research assumes so. The embodied patient is context-specific, just as the drugs used on it are (Johnson 2017).
6 Clinical Trials - A queer Feminist Critique
Location: Inside the Olafur Eliasson's Sculpture
7 The End
Location: Inside the Inner Circle of Novartis Pavillon
The Swiss pharmaceutical industry is rooted in patriarchal, sexist, classist and racist sources of ideology. Whether it is the historical patriarchal character of the industry, the restricted view of gender as exclusively binary that persists to this day, the continued outsourcing of production facilities to countries with low wage costs and barely existing safety precautions for the workforce, the high cost of many medications and the resulting exclusion of people in financial need, or the encouragement of people to participate in risky clinical trials by financial compensations. In these ways, the pharmaceutical industry is initially not any different from other economic sectors, all of which participate in the contemporary capitalist, neoliberal system. However, unlike the fashion, cosmetics or yachting industries, we remain totally dependent on the pharmaceutical companies. We require medicines for reproductive autonomy, freedom from chronic illness and disability or the hormones required for hormone replacement therapy or gender-affirming hormone therapy. A dependency that makes criticism difficult.
In addition, every Basel resident* benefits directly from the profits of the pharmaceutical industry and live in a city whose quality of life, art and culture is dependent on these companies. Since 2006, Basel-Stadt has almost exclusively recorded surpluses of several dozen to several hundred million francs, which are directly linked to the profits of the pharmaceutical companies Novartis and Roche. Quite interestingly, Novartis, for instance, pays half of its own global tax amounts in Switzerland (2018 700 million out of 1800 million francs worldwide), even though only 3% of its sales were generated here. (Handelszeitung 2019) So what really seems to scare the Baslers* and the Swiss* are tax reforms such as those proposed by the G7 or the OECD, which want to introduce uniform tax rates (SRF 2021) or demand that corporations pay taxes where they generate their sales. (SRF 2021/2)
Location: 4th Floor, Frank O. Gehry Building
Enter via the entrance for the Cloud restaurant, take the elevators to level M.
Ammann, Hektor (1928), "Die Diesbach-Watt-Gesellschaft", 4*f.
BaZ (2019), Basler Zeitung Online, Patrick Griesser, “Frischgebackenen Vätern gibt Novartis 18 Wochen frei”
Bieder, Martha (1928), "Universität Basel". In: Schweizerischer Verband der Akademikerinnen (Hg.): Das Frauenstudium an den Schweizer Hochschulen, Zürich, Leipzig und Stuttgart, S. 203ff.
Blick (2023), “Gewinn von Novartis bricht 2022 ein”
Bloomberg, “Gender-Equality Index”
Combet, Benita (2022), Interview mit Catherin Schöberl von Out & About Basel, “Sociologist Benita Combet on wage inequality in Switzerland”
Deutschlandfunk (2017), Dietrich Karl Mäurer, “Medikamententests an Obdachlosen”
Forbes (2022), “Forbes Global 2000: The World’s Largest Healthcare Companies In 2022”
Gyr, Ueli (1989), "Lektion fürs Leben", 278.
Handelszeitung (2015), “Novartis macht Medikamente für Arme zugänglich”
Handelszeitung (2019), Stefan Barmettler, “Die grossen Steuerzahler der Schweiz”
Hansen, Hans-Jürgen (2007), “Chemische Industrie”, In: Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz HLS, Bern.
Historisches Seminar Universität Basel (Hrsg.) (1991), "100 Jahre Frauen an der Uni Basel", Basel: Historisches Seminar der Universität Basel.
Johnson; Ericka (2017), “Gendering Drugs: Feminist Studies of Pharmaceuticals”
Luzerner Zeitung (2012), Dominik Straub, “Novartis-Tochter Sandoz in Italien in Korruptionsskandal verwickelt”, Rome.
Martin Forter (2011), «Schweizerhalle» did not have a lasting impact - the environmental risks were outsourced“, Interview with Dr. Peter Donath, former Head of Environmental Affairs of Ciba by Dr. Martin Forter
Novartis (2022), “Financial Results”, Novartis International AG, Novartis Global Communications, Basel
Novartis (2023), “Equity”
Pharmazeutische Zeitung (2018), “Novartis-Affäre sorgt für Politik-Skandal”
Prior, Sheridan (2022), “Doctors should listen to women: how biomedicine’s diagnostic process prevents a full understand of gendering inequalities in diagnostic error”
Rawlinson, Mary C. (2016), “Just Life: Bioethics and the Future of Sexual Difference”, Columbia University Press
Röthlin, Niklaus (2000): Einblicke in die Migration einer grossen Schweizer Stadt am Beispiel Basels (16.-18. Jahrhundert), In: Studer, Barbara: Adlige Damen, Kauffrauen und Mägde. Zur Herkunft von Neubürgerinnen in spätmittelalterlichen Städten Süddeutschlands und der Schweiz, in: Assimilierung-Integration-Multikulturalität, Zürich, S. 171-184.
Spiegel (2010), “Gericht verurteilt Novartis”
SRF (2021/2), Massimo Agostinis, “Kantone reagieren besorgt auf die G7-Beschlüsse”
SRF (2013), Reto Gerber, Tilman Lingner, “Novartis: Wegzug aus Basel unter Umständen zwingend”
Stahlberg, Dagmar und Sabine Sczesny (2001): „Effekte des generischen Maskulinums und alternativer Sprachformen auf den gedanklichen Einbezug von Frauen.“ In: Psychologische Rundschau (52/3), 131 - 140.
Studer, Brigitte (1988): Frauen an den Universitäten in der Schweiz, Bern: Dokumentationsstelle für Wissenschaftspolitik.
Süddeutsche (2022), “Klimaversprechen großer Firmen führen oft in die Irre”, Berlin
Sweco Architects, “The Physic Garden – Novartis Campus, Basel, Schweiz“, Stockholm
Swissinfo, Plüss Jessica Davis, James Helen and Veronica Devore, “Die Schweizer Pharmaindustrie rechnet mit ihrer Vergangenheit, Gegenwart und Zukunft ab”
Swissinfo (2019), “The Swiss textile industry’s unsavoury past”
Wecker, Regina/Wenger, Simon (2010): „Schon Früh Verspätet: Frauenstudium in Basel“, in: uni nova, Nr. 114, S. 24-27.
Tagesanzeiger (2011), Felix Maise, “Schweizerhalle liegt heute in China”
Thompson, Jessica and Denise Blake (2020), “Women’s experiences of medical miss-diagnosis: How does gender matter in healthcare settings?”. In: Women’s Studies Journal, Volume 34 Number 1/2, December 2020: 22-36.
University Basel, Department of Pharmaceutical Science, Christoph Kessler “Geschichte des Departements Pharmazeutische Wissenschaften Basel