PR firm cleared after probe into Monsanto 'lists'
FleishmanHillard, the global PR firm headed by Irishman John Saunders, acted within the law when it put together lists of journalists and others for Monsanto in a so-called "stakeholder mapping project", a high-profile legal review has concluded.
Global agency FleishmanHillard was a public relations advisor to Monsanto - best known for its genetically modified seeds and the Roundup weedkiller, prior to its acquisition by German pharma giant Bayer.
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That role became controversial following reports in the French media about the compilation by FleishmanHillard for Monsanto, of lists of stakeholders in France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, UK and related-to EU institutions. The lists included almost 1,500 individuals.
PR firms use stakeholder mapping to track attitudes and target messages but French media reports suggested that had included the illegal collection of confidential or private data.
In May, Monsanto's new owner Bayer commissioned law firm Sidley Austin to investigate the allegations. Its report has now found the PR advisors did not act illegally and that no "sensitive" information was tracked.
The PR firmed welcomed the results.
"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," it said.
Bayer said that Sidley Austin had completed its investigation of the stakeholder lists which it said were created in late 2016 and 2017 by FleishmanHillard on behalf of Monsanto as part of the re-registration of glyphosate - including Roundup - in the EU.
Sidley Austin found: "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."
"We found no support for allegations that the stakeholder lists tracked stakeholders' personal hobbies, leisure activities, or other personal interests," Sidley Austin's report said.