One of the world’s largest advertising firms has been accused of helping Saudi Arabia whitewash its terrible human-rights record, according to an exclusive report by the UK newspaper The Independent.
Following the execution of 47 protesters in January, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir took to U.S. media to defend Saudi Arabia’s reputation. The Independent tracked the output of the Saudi-owned news outlet Arabia Now in pushing the Saudi regime’s agenda.
In an op-ed duly placed in Newsweek titled The Saudis Are Fighting Terrorism, Don’t Believe Otherwise, Al-Jubeir argued the wealthy Gulf kingdom had “arrested extremists within its borders, tried them before specialised courts and imposed the ultimate penalties on those convicted.”
The piece was distributed by Qorvis MSLGroup, a U.S.-based subsidiary of Publicis Groupe, the French conglomerate that owns brands which include Saatchi and Saatchi. The company has worked with Saudi Arabia for over a decade, helping with “media relations, advertising, government relations, grass-roots action and online communications,” according to a page about that relationship on the group’s website.
After the UK based human rights group Reprieve challenged Publicis on its defense of Saudi human-rights abuses, that page was removed.
“It is hard to square Publicis’s claim that it is committed to human rights principles with its work for the Saudi Arabian government,” Reprieve’s director of communications Donald Campbell told The Independent.
“The Saudi authorities have a record of torturing and executing those that attend political protests – even children,” Campbell added. Yet one of Publicis’s subsidiary companies is helping to defend the country’s supposed ‘reforms’ in the media, as well as the Saudi government’s use of ‘the ultimate penalty’ against those convicted in its deeply unfair courts.
“Publicis’s response to questions over this work seems to have been to bury its head in the sand,” he added. “It is notable that nearly all mentions of their subsidiary Qorvis’s work for the kingdom have disappeared from its website since these concerns were raised. Instead of trying to sweep all this under the carpet, Publicis must carry out a comprehensive review of whether its work for the Saudis is compatible with its publicly stated human rights principles.”
Qorvis MSLGroup responded in a statement, “As a matter of policy, MSLGroup does not comment publicly on the specific work we do for our clients. We stand by our ethics and integrity and the work we do with all of our clients.”