Unilever and mass murder in Congo

This video is the film White King, Red Rubber, Black Death; about King Leopold II of Belgium, and Congo.

From British daily The Morning Star:

The man who murdered Congo

(Sunday 13 July 2008)

Lord Leverhulme’s Ghosts, by Jules Marchal

(Verso, £16.99)

WORKING as volunteers in Leverhulme‘s beautiful terraced gardens at Rivington, one of the things that was constantly drummed into me and the other staff was what a great guy that this multimillionaire of Unilever fame had been.

Indeed, this was the image that Leverhulme cultivated during his lifetime. Widely seen as a liberal philanthropist, he espoused a variety of progressive causes and created model worker settlements such as Port Sunlight near Liverpool.

When the search for palm oil in the Congo began, he stressed his compassionate credentials and even went as far as to court the sympathies of socialists in Belgium, combining the usual colonialist rubbish about bringing the benefits of civilisation, Christianity and the dignity of labour with more down-to-earth promises to pay good wages and combat tropical disease.

The reality of his involvement in the Congo, however, turned out to be completely different and, in the drive to make a quick buck, nothing was allowed to stand in his way.

Collaborating with that well-known democrat King Leopold [II] of Belgium, he unleashed a wave of theft, resettlement, forced labour and sheer violence on an almost unimaginable scale.

The result was that Western business concerns, of which Leverhulme’s was one of the largest, managed to halve the population of Congo within just a couple of decades, killing millions in a way that has inevitably invoked comparison with the nazi Holocaust.

Having been a diplomat in the Belgian Congo and having spent some 20 years researching the history of forced labour in the region, the late Jules Marchal knew what he was talking about and Lord Leverhulme’s Ghosts is an exhaustively detailed account that should make Unilever hang its head in shame.

Not that this experience was unique, though. As Adam Hochschild notes in his superb introduction to the book, similar acts of butchery took place in, among others, German controlled Cameroon and Portuguese Angola.

The fact that over four million Congolese have met their deaths since 1997 as a result of local corrupt elites working hand in hand with resource-greedy multinationals also shows that the ghosts of Leverhulme have yet to be laid to rest.


The title of the book, Lord Leverhulme’s Ghosts, is a paraphrase of King Leopold’s Ghost, by Adam Hochschild, about the role of King Leopold II in the mass killings of Congolese people.

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24 thoughts on “Unilever and mass murder in Congo

  1. Unilever Fined for Polluting California Air With Deodorant Spray

    SACRAMENTO, California, February 12, 2010 (ENS) – A fragrant personal care spray designed to make men appear to be free of unpleasant body odor has polluted California air to the degree that the state has fined the brandowner’s corporate parent more than $1 million.

    The California Air Resources Board announced Wednesday that it has penalized Conopco Inc. d/b/a Unilever $1.3 million for illegal consumer sales of AXE Deodorant Bodyspray for Men.

    Air Resources Board spokesman Dimitri Stanich says the deodorant spray contaminated California air with the volatile organic compounds used as a propellant.
    The propellant used to spray deodorant is an air pollutant. (Photo by Joshua Coopa)

    Stanich said deodorant sprays sold in California have a very small specific level of volatile organic compounds, VOCS, that they are allowed to emit and this product exceeded that level.

    Between 2006 and 2008, Unilever’s parent company, Conopco, sold, supplied and offered for sale in California more than 2.8 million units of deodorant body spray that failed to meet the state’s clean air standards for aerosol deodorants.

    “We have enforcement officers that go to retail stores, check labels, take random samples and test them,” said Stanich. “The process usually is testing within our lab in Sacramento.”

    Air Resources Board Enforcement Chief James Ryden said, “Consumer products, because of their pervasive use, contribute a growing portion of VOC emissions throughout California. Therefore, it’s important that every can and bottle of product be compliant with ARB’s standards.”

    “The good news for California is that Unilever, after being made aware of the violation, took the steps necessary to correct the violation, mitigate the impacts, and ultimately reduce the emissions from this product,” Ryden said.

    The violations resulted in what the Board called “significant excess emissions” from volatile organic compounds.

    These emissions contribute to ground-level ozone, or smog, said Ryden. Exposure to ozone can cause lung inflammation, impaired breathing, coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and worsening of asthma symptoms. Over 90 percent of Californians still breathe unhealthy air at some time during the year.

    Conopco cooperated in the investigation and will make two equal payments of $650,000 into the California Air Pollution Control Fund for projects and research to improve California’s air quality, Ryden said.

    The California Clean Air Act adopted in 1988 requires the Air Resources Board to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds from consumer products as a means to reach health-based state and federal ambient air quality standards.

    Deodorants, hair spray, cleaning products, spray paint, and insecticides are examples of common consumer products that use VOCs as propellants.

    Since 1988 Air Resources Board regulations have curbed these emissions by 44 percent, nearly 200 tons per day, and cut toxic air contaminants by 13 tons per day, according to Board figures.


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