An independent investigation into UK PR firm Bell Pottinger has found the agency breached ethical principles in work done for the Gupta-owned Oakbay. The findings were released earlier today.
EWN Reporter Ilze-Mari le Roux says that Herbert Smith Freehills, the law firm investigating Bell Pottinger, worked through 45 000 documents and interviewed a significant number of witnesses to get to the bottom of this issue.
One of the main findings was that management was misled in the handling the Oakbay account. This lead to racially divisive content being put out by the firm.
The report released by Herbert Smith Freehills shows that initially, Bell Pottinger handled the Oakbay account by focusing on corporate communication. In September 2016 they shifted focus onto what they call the economic emancipation campaign.
The law firm was very straight forward when they said that taking on such a campaign is not necessarily a breach of a code of ethics per say, but they found that some of the content that was used in those campaigns - that is where the problem come in.— Ilze-Mari le Roux, EWN Reporter
Some of the content was potentially racially divisive and offensive. That's what breached the ethical principal.— Ilze-Mari le Roux, EWN Reporter
In addition to this, Ilze-Mari le Roux says the report mentions that management should have known when you take on such a campaign you should handle it with care. The firm found that this was not done, says Le Roux.
The report echoes the statement put out by Bell Pottinger's former CEO James Henderson who says they were misled. Herderson stepped down as CEO.
The senior management were apparently misled by the people working on the campaign. But what they highlighted was that there were a number of opportunities for senior management to have picked up on it and they should have rectified it.— Ilze-Mari le Roux, EWN Reporter
Another revelation in the report shows that those working on the Oakbay campaign took steps to mislead and undermine journalists who were questioning and investigating the campaign.
According to Le Roux, Bell Pottinger stated when the company released the report, that the handling of this account is not representative of how it works, and it views this as a lesson to ensure it never happens again.
Listen to the full report below: