'No evidence of illegal behaviour' by FleishmanHillard in Monsanto case

The investigation by international law firm Sidley Austin into PR agency FleishmanHillard's creation of stakeholder lists for Monsanto found no evidence of the 'illegal surveillance' reported in the French media.

The Omnicom Group agency’s activities came under scrutiny after French newspaper Le Monde reported that prosecutors were investigating lists compiled to defend Roundup, which was developed by Monsanto before Bayer acquired the company.

The lists reportedly included names of journalists, politicians, agricultural and nonprofit leaders categorised by their position on Monsanto. Le Monde filed a complaint with the French government, which launched an investigation into the matter.

French law governs the creation of lists and databases of people based on their political views. Roundup has been the subject of lawsuits filed by individuals who said the weed-killer has been linked to cancer.

Bayer commissioned the investigation by the law firm in May this year to find out if FleishmanHillard or Monsanto had collected confidential or private data in violation of legal regulations.

The results are available here. As part of its investigation, Sidley Austin collected and searched over 2.4m electronic files and reviewed over 25,000 documents as part of its investigation. It also conducted interviews with people involved in the project.

The report concluded that although the stakeholder lists were created to strongly advocate Monsanto’s positions to stakeholders and the public, the law firm did not find any evidence of illegality.

In addition, it could not find the specific French document shown in the media, and that media outlets refused to make the documents available to the law firm.

There was also no evidence that the lists were based on illegal "surveillance" of individuals. The report concludes: "We found no support for allegations that the stakeholder lists tracked stakeholders’ personal hobbies, leisure activities, or other personal interests."

As a result, Bayer said it does not see any violations by employees of the law or Monsanto's internal policies in effect at the time.

"The completion and publication of the investigation is another important step towards creating transparency," said Matthias Berninger, head of public affairs and sustainability at the company.

Last month, the German Council for Public Relations (DRPR) also cleared FlesihmanHillard of any wrongdoing.

Berninger added: "We are happy that the independent investigation concluded with no findings of illegal behavior, which provides a strong foundation for our outreach and stakeholder engagement going forward."

A spokesperson for FleishmanHillard said the work the agency conducted was in a principled and lawful matter, 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," said the agency. "It is essential to any well-functioning society that diverse opinions can be expressed and discussed."

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