Merck Investigating Noose Reportedly Found at Durham, North Carolina Plant

Merck_Kena Betancur/Getty Images

Kena Betancur/Getty Images

An ugly symbol of racism appears to have reared its head at a Merck facility in North Carolina. The pharma giant is investigating reports of a noose found hanging at a construction project on the 262-acre facility.

First reported by The News & Observer in North Carolina, a contractor working on the site allegedly discovered a rope fashioned into the form of a noose. Citing a company email it obtained, the N&O reported the noose was removed, and company management is launching an investigation into the incident. 

The noose is a symbol of racist lynchings that took place across parts of the United States throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. According to data compiled by the NAACP, there were 4,743 lynchings across the United States from 1882 to 1968. There were approximately 102 known lynchings that occurred in North Carolina during that period, according to a 2015 report compiled by the Equal Justice Institute

Merck spokesperson Patrick Ryan told the paper that the company has “zero tolerance for hate, racism, or discrimination in our workplace or society.”

A company email obtained by the N&O encourages employees to bring any concerns regarding the incident to management and provide resources for support. 

“Actions such as these will NOT be tolerated and individuals found committing such acts will be dealt with swiftly and severely,” site management said in the email. “As a leadership team, we are disgusted that anyone on our plant site would engage in such behavior.”

Merck Chief Executive Officer Ken Frazier is one of the highest profile African American executives in the United States. Frazier, who will retire from his role at Merck at the end of this month, was recently named CEO of the Year by Chief Executive magazine. He was selected for his devotion to social justice and economic inclusion. 

Merck’s Durham campus is used to manufacture its HPV vaccine, Gardasil, and the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. After Merck struck its deal with J&J, the company secured funds from the U.S. government to upgrade its Durham facility to support the manufacturing effort. 

When Merck announced the deal in March, the company said it was eligible for up to $268.8 million from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a division of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to support the upgrades necessary to accelerate manufacturing efforts for SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 vaccines and medicines at the facility. 

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