Matthias Berninger should actually know what he was getting himself into – and yet the former top Greens official, once adopted son of Joschka Fischer and later State Secretary for Consumer Protection in the Red-Green Federal Government, has was a little surprised by the whole Monsanto disaster. fell on him in 2019. “Break” is actually not the right description, because the takeover of the American company, known for its methods of production and communication, for 63 billion dollars, the largest acquisition of the l Bayer’s story, was a conscious act of management around the CEO. Werner Baumann. To date, however, the matter has not been digested. Bayer’s share price has halved, its image is tarnished and the outcome of countless legal proceedings in the United States is open.
At the heart of the matter: Bayer is now also responsible for glyphosate, the controversial pesticide suspected of causing cancer – and how Monsanto influenced public opinion. Questionable relations with scientists, courtesy studies, non-transparent lobbying: “For many of us it was clear: we don’t want this,” Berninger said in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
A team led by Berninger set to work to define a new relationship to science: broad information to the public on cooperation, transparency in the award of research contracts. To justify himself, Berninger cites the desire to act responsibly, but he also argues for himself: “We have made it too easy for our critics. They no longer had to deal with studies, but could simply point the character to the processes. “
Bayer no longer wants to fund endowed chairs
For a long time, collaboration between pharmaceutical companies and universities, for example, was also a problem for the critical lobbying organization Transparency International (TI) Germany. Since 2013, she has verified and criticized the lack of transparency within the framework of her Hochschulwatch project. When Bayer approached TI and offered to cooperate with them on the planned transparency offensive, TI-intern was a hot topic, reports CEO Hartmut Bäumer, who was also a former green politician and later ministerial director of the Land Government of Baden-Württemberg. “But that depends on whether the outcome is good, and Bayer is on the right track,” he said, reporting “good factual collaboration”.
After two years, the group is now giving the green light to the transparency offensive. It is the first company of the future Dax-40 to introduce a transparency register: the Bayer Science Collaboration Explorer. Scientific collaborations with universities, public research institutes and individuals in Germany are published in a database; CEO Werner Baumann will report on this publicly for the first time this Thursday as part of a “Bayer Transparency Day – Inside Science”.
The transparency register is starting in Germany and will be gradually introduced in other countries over the next two years. Specifically, essential cooperation information is published for each contract: name and seat of the institution / person, type of agreement, subject, financial size and others. “In the future, everyone will see who we partner with,” Berninger says and promises full transparency, “even studies whose results we don’t like”.
Bäumer mentions the last point positively, the delimitation of operational and commercial affairs is delicate for him: Bayer does not want to make them public. The IT man understands that companies want to protect their intellectual property from competition, “but of course this can be misused to hide information.” In addition, only new projects are affected, not the many ongoing projects. There is no other way, says Berninger, because Bayer is bound by old contracts. Bäumer, on the other hand, demands a clear stipulation from Bayer that third-party funds are only granted to universities or scientists who wish to publish their projects.
Basically, it’s a cultural shift, says Berninger, which Bäumer also recognizes. “In companies, we must first convince many at the top,” observed the head of Transparency International; It’s probably no coincidence that Bayer originally wanted to start with other companies, but is now going public on its own.
“We need this cooperation if, as a site in Germany, we want to be involved internationally in the big issues of the future, especially in the health sector”, says Berninger and therefore wishes to ensure as much acceptance as possible. He no longer thinks of the endowed chairs, which have become popular in the meantime, where companies finance professorships: “This only opens up new discussions.
The two agree: the success of the whole depends on how Bayer practices the transparency it has now heralded – and whether others follow suit.