Sunday, 10 March 2013

Unilever, And The Stain That No Soap Can Remove

The "Lever brothers" soap manufacturing company was started in 1885 by William and James Lever Using a process invented by early business partner, William Watson, whereby glycerin was mixed with vegetable oil such as palm oil, rather than tallow, to create a free lathering soap.
This early product became known as "Sunlight soap", and soon after, the brands, "Lifebouy", "Lux", and "Vim" were also established.
By 1888, "Sunlight soap" production was around 450 tonnes per week and the company moved to new premises on the Wirral peninsular in Merseyside, England. The plant was named, "Port Sunlight", and expanded to include a "model village", to accommodate the company's staff, in good quality housing with high architectural standards and many community facilities.
Lever Brothers was one of the first companies to take an interest in the welfare of its workers and the masonic influences of founder, William, (who was initiated into the craft in 1902), were to be applied, not just in the workplace, but also in the village, where conformity to certain strict standards, and participation in community life, was to be expected.
William was to become the founder of several Lodges during his lifetime, especially as, growing business forced many of his workers to migrate to London and participation in their "mother" lodge, became impractical.
William Lever eventually became 1st Viscount Leverhulme and is remembered as a great philanthropist.
Four years after he died in 1925, Lever Brothers Ltd, (which was already the biggest company in Britain), merged with Dutch margarine producer, "Margarine Unie" to form "Unilever", one of the first ever multinational corporations. Unilever today,  is the world's third-largest consumer goods company, owning more than 400 brands. (the most famous of which are, Aviance, Axe/Lynx, Ben & Jerry's, Dove, Flora/Becel, Heartbrand, Hellmann's, Knorr, Lipton, Lux/Radox, Omo/Surf, Rexona/Sure, Sunsilk, Toni & Guy, TRESemm√©, VO5 and Wish-Bone)
Around the same time as the founding of the Lever brothers company, Welsh explorer Henry Stanley, (The one who allegedly uttered the famous phrase, "Dr Livingstone I presume", after finally discovering the Scottish missionary and explorer, David Livingstone in Tanzania), had helped King Leopold II, of Belgium stake the claim of his organisation, "The International Association for the Exploration and Civilization of Central Africa", in the Lower Congo.
Leopold II's stated intention was to bring "civilisation" to the Congo basin but his motivation was really, exploitation of rubber and ivory. Belgian colonial rule, was to become, and remains, one of the most brutal regimes in Africa, with its use of "Travail Force" (forced labour). Villages were wiped out, the land was expropriated and the communal society was destroyed. Workers were mutilated if they failed to gather their quota of rubber from the wild vines; women were tortured, murdered, raped, and driven into brothels for King Leopold's native soldiers or his white agents. It is estimated that the population had declined by six million in 1912.

Stanley was appalled, even though, it was estimated that he had been directly responsible for the death of 6 to 7 hundred natives. One of his critics, Richard Burton, (not the actor) declared, 'Stanley shoots Negroes as if they were monkeys". 

Partners in the Belgian expropriation of land, were some of the richest capitalists in the world at  the time, Guggenheim, J.P. Morgan, J.D. Rockerfeller (Jr),  Thomas Fortune Ryan, Aldrich, and of course, William Lever.
A typical deal would be similar to one offered to  Ryan's and Daniel Guggenheim's "American Congo Company", whereby they would be granted  a ninety-nine-year option to collect rubber "and other vegetable products", over 4,000 square miles, plus a ten-year option to buy 2,000 square miles of territory.
Similar concessions were given for rights to mining, and forestry, including the palm oil needed for the production of Lever Brothers soap.

Despite William Lever's good standing at home, he was not only aware of the conditions in the Congo, but relied upon "Travail Force", and helped to establish it. The history of Unilever is irreversibly stained by this vile system and no amount of soap can ever remove it.

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