Corporate Europe Observatory

Exposing the power of corporate lobbying in the EU

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European PR firms whitewashing brutal regimes - report

Credit: Banksy
Credit: Banksy

New research exposes companies behind Europe's multi-million Euro image-laundering business.

A report released today by research and campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) sheds light on how dictators and repressive regimes are paying European PR firms and lobbyists to push their agenda and mask their dire human rights records.

Spin doctors to the autocrats: how European PR firms whitewash repressive regimes” lifts the lid on the murky world of spin carried out on behalf of some of the world's most brutal regimes. CEO is calling on EU institutions to urgently establish a mandatory lobbying register as a step towards bringing some much needed transparency to the sector. Transparency rules should include a specific clarification that lobbying for non-EU governments and states is required to be reported. 

Case studies include:

  • the story of the spin doctors (Levick) whitewashing Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s image, and his catastrophic handling of Boko Haram ahead of next month's elections;

  • a look at various PR companies (eg Gplus) spinning Russia (and state gas company Gazprom’s) position on the Ukraine conflict in Brussels;

  • a new Central Asian think tank in Brussels which is in essence a front group paid for by the dictatorship of Kazakhstan;

  • the lavishly funded PR firms, front groups (The European Azerbaijan Society) and their European Parliament friends working for the increasingly repressive dictatorship of Azerbaijan;

  • the Brussels firm modelling themselves on Washington lobbyists, defending the interests  - and assets - of the corrupt former Ukraine regime; 

  • the PR firm BGR Gabara based in London and Brussels representing the Government of Bangladesh to manage its international image as it sentences to death several leading members of Islamic opposition parties in a flawed war crime tribunal process;

  • accused by International Criminal Court of crimes against humanity, Presidential candidate for Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta hired a PR firm to discredit the ICC during his election campaign.

“Disappearing people in the night, torturing dissidents, smearing opponents, using slave labour, and murdering protesters might be all in day’s work for dictators and war criminals. But the fact that they are paying European PR companies and lobbyists to whitewash their crimes, without any kind of accountability, is a shameful indictment of democracy in the EU,” said freelance journalist Katharine Ainger, commissioned by CEO to write the report.

“These case studies demonstrate yet again the need for mandatory transparency registers at the European and national levels.”

The report also shows how representing governments that are responsible for war crimes or serious human rights abuses contradicts the various codes of conduct and corporate social responsibility guidelines that many PR firms and lobbyists have signed up to.

Related issues: 
 

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Think tanks work all around the institutions of the European Union but how they work and who they work for is often less clear. Our new report offers a closer look at these supposedly impartial hubs of expertise and highlights how the think-tank status has become a convenient vehicle for corporate lobbying activities.

A few weeks after the May coup against Dilma Rousseff by conservative parties backed by the country's largest corporations, Brazil's “interim” government, led by Michel Temer, signed an emergency loan to the State of Rio de Janeiro to help finance infrastructure for the 2016 Olympics. The bailout was conditional to selling off the State's public water supply and sanitation company, the Companhia Estadual de Águas e Esgotos (Cedae). 

When we interviewed City Councillor and chair of Rio’s Special Committee on the Water Crisis Renato Cinco, in December 2015, he was already warning against such privatisation threats and provided important background information on the water situation in Rio.

Never before has a former European Commission official been criticised as much for his post-EU career as ex-Commission president Barroso upon joining infamous US investment bank Goldman Sachs this summer. Citizens are outraged and evidence already points towards a gross violation of the EU Treaty.

Following the high-level appointment of former European Commission President José Manuel Barroso to Goldman Sachs, NGOs have launched a petition demanding stricter rules for ex-EU commissioners’ revolving door moves.

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The corporate lobby tour