Egypt COP27 using PR firm accused of ‘greenwashing and tobacco disinformation’

Egypt COP27 using PR firm accused of ‘greenwashing and tobacco disinformation’

Egypt’s COP27 Climate Change Conference organisers has hired a public relations firm accused of spreading historic “disinformation” for the tobacco and fossil fuel industries.

US-based firm Hill + Knowlton Strategies, which has worked for ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron and Saudi Aramco, has been accused by environmental groups of “greenwashing” for their clients in the oil and gas industry.

Hill + Knowlton describes itself as a public relations firm that seeks to “drive growth for our clients, help them manage risk, and defend and improve their reputations in today’s extraordinary environment”.

The company has a controversial history of working with the tobacco industry, which critics say was characterised by spreading “misinformation” downplaying the harmful effects of tobacco use.

Environmental activists have slammed the firm’s hiring for the COP27 event in Sharm El-Sheikh next month, alongside Coca-Cola – the world’s largest producer of plastic pollutants – which was appointed as an official sponsor.

“Bankrolling by one of the world’s largest polluters. Spin doctors for the tobacco, chemical, and oil industry doing the conference’s PR. Hundreds of fossil fuel lobbyists flooding the conference center,” Rachel Rose Jackson, Director of Corporate Accountability told The New Arab.

“This tells you everything you need to know about how compromised the climate talks’ integrity has become. There’s so much at stake – yet no round of talks will ever deliver until governments protect climate policy from the manipulative agenda of Big Polluters once and for all.”

Hill + Knowlton, one of the US’s oldest PR firms, worked with major tobacco companies in the 1950s, amid rising concern about the link between smoking and lung cancer.

According to the University of Bath’s Tobacco Tactics research group, the PR company countered negative news about smoking by “build[ing] and broadcast[ing] a major scientific controversy which would convey the message that the health effects of smoking were not conclusively known”.

This resulted in the creation of the Tobacco Industry Research Committee – a group that was run by Hill + Knowlton and housed a floor below the PR firm’s New York City office.

In September, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres alluded to the link between PR firms, fossil fuel giants, and the tobacco industry.

“Just as they did for the tobacco industry decades before, lobbyists and spin doctors have spewed harmful misinformation,” Guterres said at the UN General Assembly in New York. “Fossil fuel interests need to spend less time averting a PR disaster – and more time averting a planetary one.”

The New Arab contacted Hill + Knowlton for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publishing.