Christian Russau addressing Bayer Shareholders. Image Source.

Critical shareholder holds Bayer to account at the company’s annual general meeting



Bayer CEO Werner Baumann recently lost a crucial confidence vote as investors questioned his handling of the $63 billion Monsanto deal and the wave of US lawsuits that followed.

In what Bloomberg called “a stunning development for the German drugs and chemicals company”, about 55 percent of shareholders voted against absolving Baumann and other managers of responsibility for their actions in the takeover last year.

The vote threw Baumann’s future into question and prompted an immediate supervisory board session.

While the supervisory board ignored the unprecedented vote, investors are not happy with the directors’ decision to back Baumann and his strategy.

While much of the investor unrest undoubtedly focuses on financial liability, strong concerns are being raised about Bayer’s ethics.

At Bayer’s annual general meeting, Christian Russau from the umbrella organization, the Critical Shareholders, made a speech in which he launched a scathing attack on the company for its “double standards”.

According to Russau, Bayer sells pesticides in Brazil that are banned in the EU.

Russau noted that in 1988, Bayer CEO Hermann J. Strenger refused to set double standards. He said,

“We make the same requirements of our investments in Brazil or India, in the US, or in Japan, as [in Germany].”

Yet 31 years later, he said, Bayer still sells in Brazil some herbicides, insecticides and fungicides with active ingredients that are banned in Europe.

So it is operating according to a double standard. Russau accused Bayer CEO Werner Baumann of complicity with this double standard, in an “unspeakable historical continuity”.

Why Brazil?

Why is the focus on Brazil? Russau said,

“Because Brazil is at the center of Bayer’s growth interest.”

Addressing Baumann directly, he added that the Bayer CEO said at the 2018 Annual General Meeting that Bayer’s interest in acquiring Monsanto would be in the seed sector and in the growth of that sector:

This type of seed is usually genetically modified, and that’s what the agricultural poisons need.

If these three variables – genetically modified seeds, agricultural poisons and growth – are put together, only one common denominator can be found worldwide: Brazil.

That’s the sad reality.

Because the growth in the areas of genetically modified seeds and agricultural poisons has already reached its limits in the US, the lawsuits against Monsanto testify to this.

Russau said he feared that companies such as Bayer will continue to participate, perhaps more than ever, in the sale and distribution of highly toxic agrochemicals in Brazil.

As a survival tactic in the face of Monsanto’s multi-billion dollar acquisition, Bayer will go for growth at any price. Any poison which can be sold will be sold.

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