Markus Arbenz Speaks out for the Organic Movement at Bayer Shareholders' Meeting | Stop Bayer & Monsanto

On 28 April 2017 hundreds gathered to protest the Bayer/Monsanto merger at the Bayer Shareholders' meeting in Bonn, Germany. Using the proxy vote of a Bayer Shareholder, Markus Arbenz, Executive Director at IFOAM - Organics International voiced the objections many have to the proposed merger as follows: 


Dear Bayer Management and Shareholders,

I am speaking on behalf of IFOAM – Organics International and the global organic movement. From an economic perspective, Bayer is doing very well. It is neither exaggerated nor presumptuous to say "Bayer is rich and Bayer has power!" Wealth and power, though, come with obligations and responsibility.

Looking at the increase in dividends and also at the enormous societal and environmental challenges of the world, I am struck by how many pressing problems you could alleviate with so much money. I therefore urge you to waive all dividend payments to shareholders and management and ask you to invest in the future of our planet and generations to come.  Let me be more precise and make reference to the goals you mention in your Sustainability Report.

Monsanto Takeover: You are planning the takeover of Monsanto, although this is one of the most-hated companies in the world. You are very aware of Monsanto’s reputation, which, according to Nielsen is one of the three companies with the worst reputation worldwide. A reputation that does not come from a single scandal but from years of unscrupulous business practices in the pursuit of profit. A company that defames customers, a company that tries to legitimize their unjust practices by suing farmers. There are numerous reports, documentaries, and even civilian tribunals, which reported on the devastating effects Monsanto's actions have had on people and the planet. Year in year out, we see people all over the world take to the streets to voice their protests. This makes them pretty unique as very few, if any, other corporation can mobilize this amount of people against them. The way Monsanto conducts business is in complete contradiction to Bayer's sustainability policy.  Are you really sure you want to invest in this company? Are you ready to move from millions against Monsanto to billons against Bayer? It is an illusion to believe that Bayer could reform or even solve the “Monsanto problem”. Instead we will have even less competition coupled with an almost monopolistic structure.

Sustainability Strategy and the Sustainable Development Goals: On the website you make sustainability a core element of your strategy for food security and health care. And you also show your commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals. Society and the environment are featured prominently, as well as climate protection, biodiversity, water, soil protection and the protection of pollinators such as the bees.  I congratulate you on clearly recognizing and acknowledging the problems we face. However, I miss a real business policy that places precisely these goals, rather than just the economic dimension of sustainability, at the heart of your decisions and activities. Bayer is too big, too important, and has too great an impact on our society and environment to think only of its own economic success. The models on the website are good and do not necessarily need to change. Change is needed in attitudes and in the way you do your daily business. 

Let me give you an example:
Bayer promotes plants - genetically modified or not - which restrict genetic diversity, promote large-scale monocultures and require the heavy use of synthetic inputs. You lobbying is helping to ensure that laws are passed which force farmers to abandon diversity, contaminate water, and destroy habitats. It has been scientifically proven that biodiversity is decreasing dramatically and many forms of life are disappearing forever, for which Bayer shoulders responsibility. Your business model needs new goals and strategies.  Putting pictures of bees on your website won’t bring them back to life.  Managers are needed who are proud to be responsible for increasing the number of bees and not just making more money.

Vision Organic Agriculture: Bayer needs a vision for a truly sustainable planet including for the poorest people in the world. The world produces enough food for 10 billion people and yet 800 million go hungry because they do not have enough income and are excluded from production processes, especially in agriculture. Once again, Bayer bears responsibility. It is not a matter of immediately switching production to organic agriculture but Bayer must develop a better vision, look for new, long-lasting ecological models and invest their strength in making our world truly sustainable. This requires political will and a clever strategy. I recommend inviting stakeholders from the organic movement to an honest and open dialogue instead of fighting us with political pressure and clinging to out-dated business practices. Follow the lead of the United Nations that recognizes the Right to Food or the FAO, which has acknowledged the role agroecology can play in achieving food security.

In closing, Bayer/Monsanto are working toward the establishment of a monopoly. Biological diversity is disappearing, the climate is changing, and still 800 million go to bed hungry. The UN calls for a paradigm shift in agriculture. Bayer has the power to initiate this change. We need to think of a sustainable planet for our children not just maximizing dividends and managers’ salaries.

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