Bayer law firm's investigation clears FleishmanHillard of wrongdoing for Monsanto

Law firm Sidley Austin said the agency did not act illegally when it compiled lists of stakeholders for the maker of Roundup.

Photo credit: Getty images
Photo credit: Getty images

NEW YORK: FleishmanHillard did not act illegally when it compiled lists of journalists and other stakeholders in Europe for Monsanto, according to an investigation by the law firm hired by Bayer to investigate the matter.

Sidley Austin’s inquiry found that no "sensitive" information was tracked when Fleishman compiled lists of nearly "1,500 individuals in several European countries," according to a statement from Bayer. French law tightly regulates the collection of lists and databases about individuals based on their political views. 

"[The lists] were detailed, methodical and designed to strongly advocate Monsanto's positions to stakeholders and to the public," said Matthias Berninger, Bayer’s head of public affairs and sustainability. "We did not find evidence to support the French media's allegations regarding the illegality of the stakeholder lists." 

Fleishman said in a statement that it is "pleased" by the results of the investigation. 

"FleishmanHillard worked diligently at our clients’ direction and in accordance with professional standards and established industry practices. We have been and are committed to integrity in what we do," the firm said. "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 law firm has completed its investigation into the lists that Fleishman reportedly compiled to support Monsanto’s effort to re-register the chemical glyphosate, known commercially as Roundup, in Europe. Roundup, which has been named in lawsuits as a carcinogen, was developed by Monsanto before Bayer acquired the company. Bayer has reportedly offered $8 billion to settle thousands of U.S. lawsuits claiming Roundup causes cancer. 

After news of the lists broke in May, Bayer initially suspended its public affairs work with Fleishman, but shortly thereafter chose to stop public affairs work with the agency. The results of the investigation did not prompt Bayer to change that decision, according to a company spokesperson. 

"In communication and public affairs and sustainability, we do not work with FleishmanHillard as we have selected different agency partners to support our business," the spokesperson said, via email. "In the areas of product and brand communications, we do and will continue to work with FleishmanHillard."

The French newspaper Le Monde, which uncovered the details of Fleishman's work for Monsanto, also filed a complaint with prosecutors in the country as recently as early May after discovering that some of its journalists were included on the lists. In response, a French prosecutor opened an inquiry into Fleishman’s activities.

Fleishman declined to comment on the likelihood of resuming public affairs work with Bayer.

In August, the German Council for Public Relations, a PR professional organization also said Fleishman had not acted unethically when it compiled the lists.  

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