Bell Pottinger, one of the world’s most high-profile public relations companies, has been expelled from the industry’s professional body after being accused of undertaking work in South Africa that was “racially divisive”.
The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) announced that Bell Pottinger would be stripped of its membership and blocked from rejoining for five years after finding the agency had “brought the PR and communications industry into disrepute”.
The disciplinary action stems from work undertaken by Bell Pottinger for Oakbay Capital in South Africa, and resulted from a complaint by the country’s Democratic Alliance.
The PR agency’s chief executive James Henderson apologised for the work in July. At the weekend Henderson resigned just days ahead of the PRCA’s ruling.
The PRCA found that Bell Pottinger’s work breached several clauses in its code of conduct, including one which demands PR companies undertake their work “without causing offence on the grounds of gender, race, religion, disability or any other form of discrimination or unacceptable reference”.
A statement from the PRCA said: “The Committee found that the nature of the programme depicted in the documents submitted to Oakbay Capital by Bell Pottinger, and as conducted by Bell Pottinger on Oakbay Capital’s behalf, was by any reasonable standard of judgement likely to inflame racial discord in South Africa and appears to have done exactly that.
“The Committee did not find the suggestion that this theme of the campaign and its consequences were unintentional to be plausible.”