Bayer suspends the work of its agency in the framework of a French investigation
PARIS: Bayer has suspended its collaboration with external agencies as part of a French government investigation into lists of opponents and supporters compiled for what Le Monde has described as a “media counter-offensive”.
The newspaper reported on Friday that prosecutors in Paris were investigating lists drawn up to help the company respond to the crisis over the herbicide glyphosate, also known as Roundup. Glyphosate, which has been named a carcinogen in lawsuits, was developed by Monsanto before Bayer acquired this company.
The lists were created as part of a public relations initiative to support glyphosate. They included the names of more than 200 people, including journalists, politicians, and agricultural and nonprofit leaders ranked by their position on Monsanto. French law tightly regulates the creation of lists and databases of people based on their political opinions.
The investigation was prompted by a complaint The world made April 26, after seeing the name of one of its reporters on a leaked FleishmanHillard list obtained by reporters covering the glyphosate public relations campaign. LeMonde announced the news of the list on Friday.
In a statement, Bayer apologized for the creation of the list and said it had suspended cooperation with “external service providers involved”. The company said it would ask an external law firm to investigate the project and Matthias Berninger, head of public affairs and sustainability, “will assess the problem internally.”
“We are also currently investigating other appropriate consequences both internally and with respect to external parties,” the company said in a statement.
Bayer said the public relations initiative supporting glyphosate began before the Monsanto acquisition, and the program manager left the company shortly after the acquisition closed.
Fleishman declined to discuss the matter, but said in a statement he takes pride in his work with Bayer and conducts himself “in accordance with professional standards and established industry practices.”
Another partner of the Bayer agency, Publicis Consultants, also declined to speak about the controversy, but said in a statement that between October 2016 and April 2017 he had “carried out public affairs work using data public relations for another PR agency “. Publicis added that it conducts an internal audit of this work and operates to the highest legal and ethical standards.
In addition to the French investigation, the list could give rise to an investigation in Belgium. Philippe Lamberts, a Brussels-based member of the European Parliament who was on the list, told Le Monde that he was considering filing a complaint in a Belgian court.