WASHINGTON: Greenpeace filed a lawsuit against Ketchum, Dezenhall Resources, Dow Chemical, and Sasol North America, alleging they used "unlawful means" to obtain confidential information about the environmental group.
The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Washington on Monday, November 29.
It alleges that Nichols-Dezenhall and its client Condea Vista – now a Sasol company – and Ketchum and its client Dow Chemical hired private investigators for two years, to steal confidential information about Greenpeace through “unlawful means” and use it to "anticipate and frustrate” the group's public education campaigns.
Sasol acquired Condea Vista, a commodity and chemical company based in Houston, in 2001. Dezenhall Resources used to be known as Nichols-Dezenhall.
Jackie Burton, director of corporate communications at Omnicom-owned Ketchum, responded to calls for comment with an e-mailed statement to PRWeek:
"We understand that a complaint has been filed. We have not formally received the papers yet and, therefore, cannot speak to any of the specifics in the complaint. We will review it thoroughly and address it in the appropriate venue. As a company that views integrity as fundamental to our values, we take this matter seriously."
Dow Chemical also provided a statement that said the company is aware of the lawsuit but has "not been served with this suit and, therefore, we are not in a position to immediately comment about the alleged activities of over a decade ago."
Dezenhall Resources did not return calls. Sasol could not be reached for comment.
The lawsuit alleges the companies paid private security firm Beckett Brown International (BBI) for services directly and through Ketchum and Dezenhall. BBI, later called S2i, subsequently closed. Four former employees of BBI are named in the suit.
The suit also alleges that several other organizations may have been targeted by the companies' activities, including Fenton Communications, a PR firm that often works with public interest groups and social justice organizations.
Fenton Communications worked with Greenpeace on a campaign addressing chlorine issues during 1998 to 2000, said David Fenton, founder and CEO of the agency. During the same two-year period it worked with the National Environmental Trust, also cited in the lawsuit as being targeted by the companies' activities, on issues relating to genetically engineered seeds.
He said Fenton Communications reported a number of break-ins at its Washington office during the same two-year period, in which items such as laptops went missing. The suit also alleges BBI employees conducted surveillance on Fenton's home in Washington.
“It's a new low for the PR profession,” said Fenton.
From 1998 to 2000, Greenpeace said it was working on campaigns in the US that aimed to “expose environmental hazards and improve environmental conditions.” It said the campaigns targeted the practices and products of both Dow Chemical and Condea Vista.
Mark Floegel, a researcher at Greenpeace, said the environmental group's public advocacy efforts generally include public education, lobbying, research, public events and conferences, and grassroots programs.
The suit states that, starting in 1999, BBI briefed the PR firms directly on surveillance activities and that Ketchum, Dezenhall, Dow Chemical, and Condea Vista allegedly informed BBI which organizations to target and what types of information to obtain, including information about Greenpeace's internal communications, financial reports, and campaign plans.
The 56-page lawsuit, which cites BBI records, alleges Ketchum paid BBI $125,000 from October 1998 to January 2001 and that Dezenhall paid BBI more than $200,000.
It also alleges Ketchum created the Dow Global Trends Tracking Team, made up of staff from BBI, Dow Chemical, Ketchum, and Allis Information Management, which assessed issues facing the company while tracking Greenpeace's activities.
Greenpeace said in the lawsuit it is seeking compensatory, statutory, and punitive damages. The environmental group launched a website with links to the lawsuit and corresponding documents.