Agrochemical giant Monsanto—known for its power over food systems world-wide—recently suggested a name-change as part of a proposed corporate merger, in what critics say is a bald attempt to bury the poor human rights and environmental reputation associated with the company's brand.
Founded in St. Louis, Monsanto recently revealed that it would like to move its headquarters from the United States to the United Kingdom as part of a proposed merger with Swiss rival Syngenta.
A June 6 letter from Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant, made public by Syngenta, reveals that, as part of the deal, the U.S. company would "also propose a new name for the combined company to reflect its unique global nature."
Gary Ruskin of the consumer organization U.S. Right to Know put the name change differently: "Monsanto wants to escape its ugly history by ditching its name," he said in a press statement. "This shows how desperate Monsanto is to escape criticism: of its products, which raise environmental and health concerns, as well as concerns about corporate control of agriculture and our food system."
Market Watch, not known as a corporate watchdog publication, reiterated this point: "Branding experts said a name change could help Monsanto shed some baggage associated with its past, such as its Vietnam War-era manufacturing of the herbicide Agent Orange, used by the U.S. government in the war and since linked to chronic health problems in humans."
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The company continues to face global protests for its push of genetically modified crops, pesticides, and agro-industrial models at the expense of workers' rights, food and environmental health, and indigenous sovereignty.
A February Harris Poll found that Monsanto has one of the poorest reputations of "the 100 most visible companies" in the United States. Moreover, the corporation was numbered among eight companies that "show the largest declines in reputation" over the past five years—alongside Walmart, McDonald's, and others.
Monsanto does not appear to be winning any popularity contests. While the company has sought to buy Syngenta for over a year, it keeps getting turned down, including with this latest proposal.
Joe Satran wrote of the rejection in The Huffington Post: "You know you're unpopular when not even a company notorious for selling chemicals banned in Europe for harming defenseless invertebrates wants anything to do with you."
Despite Syngenta's latest rejection, critics of the company say the proposed name-change is telling, especially given the history of such moves. When notorious tobacco corporation Philip Morris changed its name to Altria Group in 2003, many charged that this was simply an attempt to avoid bad publicity, and ultimately, protect its bottom line.
"The merger process is still ongoing, and it's clear that Monsanto will keep making offers," Ruskin told Common Dreams. "It's so telling that Monsanto wants to ditch its own name. It speaks to how strong rejection of the company is in the United States and around the world."