Diana Marszalek 05 Sep 2019 // 1:03PM GMT
LEVERKUSEN, GERMANY — An independent legal review commissioned by Bayer has cleared FleishmanHillard of any wrongdoing in its creation of stakeholder mapping lists for Monsanto.
In a statement issued Thursday, the pharma and life sciences giant said a report from the law firm Sidley Austin concluded that allegations initially made in the French media that FleishmanHillard and Monsanto had illegally collected confidential or private data were unfounded. There was also no evidence that the lists were based on illegal ‘surveillance’ of individuals, as claimed by the media, the report said.
“The completion and publication of the investigation is another important step towards creating transparency,” said Matthias Berninger, head of public affairs and sustainability at Bayer. In its report, Sidley Austin concluded: “There is no question that the […] stakeholder lists created were detailed, methodical, and designed to strongly advocate Monsanto's positions to stakeholders and to the public. But […] we did not find evidence to support the French media's allegations regarding the illegality of the stakeholder lists.”
In addition, the report concludes: “We found no support for allegations that the stakeholder lists tracked stakeholders’ personal hobbies, leisure activities, or other personal interests.” Based on the final report, Bayer does not see any violations by employees of the law or Monsanto's internal policies in effect at the time, the company’s statement said.
The report comes roughly four months after FleishmanHillard was suspended by Monsanto’s owner Bayer in May following claims in Le Monde that the agency had breached data privacy laws in drawing up names of stakeholders as part of a public affairs campaign to renew the company’s European license for glyphosate, the key ingredient in controversial Monsanto pesticide RoundUp.
The list, compiled in FleishmanHillard’s Brussels office in 2016, included details of around 200 journalists (including from the two outlets that brought the complaint), researchers and policymakers. Other agencies involved in the glyphosate campaign included FTI Consulting, Irish firm Red Flag, Publicis Consultants, H+K Strategies and Lincoln Strategy Group. The agency was previously one of Monsanto's primary PR firms, before the company's troubled merger with Bayer.
A Bayer spokesperson said the company's relationship with FleishmanHillard has not changed since May. “In Communications, Public Affairs and Sustainability, we do not work with FleishmanHillard as we have selected different agency partners to support our business. In the areas of product and brand communications, we do and will continue to work with FleishmanHillard," the spokesperson said.
In response to the report’s findings, FleishmanHillard said: “We are pleased that the results of the detailed review by Bayer’s independent legal counsel confirm FleishmanHillard and our employees have conducted our work on behalf of Bayer Crop Science and Monsanto in an ethical, principled and lawful manner. FleishmanHillard worked diligently at our client’s direction and in accordance with professional standards and established industry practices. We have been and are committed to integrity in what we do. We believe in the value of engaging in and supporting vigorous social dialogue. It is essential to any well-functioning society that diverse opinions can be expressed and discussed.”
The legal review is the second reprieve for FleishmanHillard over the last month. In August, the German Council for Public Relations (DRPR) closed its investigation into the case, saying there was no misconduct by FleishmanHillard in its creation of the lists.