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Doing good for employees? Not Unilever’s cup of tea

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Paul Polman was celebrated as Mr Unilever for his passion for human rights and gender equality. His motto: even if you’re a multinational, doing good is more important than making a profit. But when its own employees – Kenyan tea pickers who became victims of plunder, rape and deadly violence – begged for help and protection, the company did not respond. And when they appealed directly to Polman, he looked the other way.

1-minute overview
  • Unilever is often seen as the epitome of an ethically operating multinational. company. Paul Polman, the predecessor of current CEO Alan Jope, was the ultimate proof that an enthusiastic boss can make the difference. He said that doing good was more important than making a profit. But employees of Unilever's Lipton tea plantations in Kenya found that, when it comes down to it, the multinational doesn’t take good care of its people after all.
  • When Kenya's 2007 presidential election ended in bloody ethnic violence, an estimated 1,400 civilians died, many were injured, and thousands of businesses and buildings were destroyed. Unilever's tea plantations in southwestern Kenya also fell victim to the violence.
  • Enraged mobs of armed men invaded the plantations causing death and destruction. The attacks are said to have cost the lives of eleven workers and family members, and at least 56 women and girls were raped. An unknown number of employees were injured, some being permanently disabled.
  • Many of the victims were members of the Kisii tribe who, as 'migrant workers' from a province two hours away, did the lower-paid work of harvesting the leaves for Lipton tea. In the run-up to the elections, they faced harassment from co-workers from the Kalenjin people, many of whom had better jobs. Unilever did not protect them, whilst taking steps to get its senior management and expatriate staff to safety.
  • After the ordeal, the tea pickers also felt unsupported by Unilever. They received compensation of €120, but no care for their physical and mental ailments, and no pay while the harvest was suspended for six months. In the meantime, they could not pay their doctors’ bills, send their children to school, or go shopping without borrowing from family or friends.
  • In the years that followed, the Kisii victims became increasingly dissatisfied with their employer’s role. Their case aroused the sympathy of a prominent British law firm, which in 2015 attempted to claim damages on behalf of 218 victims at the High Court in England. Unilever argued that it could not be held responsible for the tea pickers because they were employed by a subsidiary, Unilever Tea Kenya. The judge agreed. The victims turned to CEO Paul Polman, hoping he would live up to his reputation as a human rights champion. But he remained silent, and did nothing.

​​​​​About our research

  • This article focuses on Anne Johnson, a tea picker on the Unilever plantation who lost her husband and daughter. Follow the Money also spoke with Mary, another employee who was directly involved. In addition, we have more than 200 pages of court documents and sworn statements from ten former employees, including former managers, and other witnesses of events following the derailed presidential election.

 

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Her Majesty's High Court of Justice is a few hundred yards from the north bank of the Thames. With its pointed gothic architecture, it’s one of the most awe-inspiring Victorian buildings in London.

Walk to the east alongside the river, towards Blackfriars Bridge, and you'll come across another distinctive Victorian landmark: Unilever House, the consumer goods giant’s headquarters. Its architecture is much friendlier: neoclassical, with a semicircular façade and elegant pillars.

William Hesketh Lever, the inventor of the famous Sunlight soap, signed the lease for this site in 1920. Thirteen years later, it became the new headquarters of his company Lever Brothers, which had merged with Nederlandse Margarine Unie in 1930. Lever, or Lord Leverhulme as he became, had died by then. But he is still known today for his charity, his passion for equality, and looking after his staff – his British staff, anyway.

According to Polman, Lever had understood the ultimate form of leadership: working for the greater good

When Paul Polman became Unilever's chairman in 2009, he found inspiration in the actions of William Lever, saying that Lever had clearly understood that the ultimate form of leadership is 'working for the greater good'. He told the Financial Times: 'When [Lever] did his Sunlight soap and Lifebuoy – it was not to report quarterly profits or to make shareholders happy. It was to address the issues of hygiene in that time in Victorian Britain, which were humongous.'

Men with machetes

Anne Johnson, a middle-aged Kenyan who used to pick leaves for Unilever's Lipton tea, has her own humongous issues. She lost her husband and daughter in 2007 after an orgy of violence on the plantations, in which men with machetes raped, pillaged, burned and murdered for days.

In 2015, Johnson’s name echoed down the corridors of that monumental Victorian high court in London. The prominent British law firm Leigh Day sued Unilever on behalf of her and 217 other victims and relatives, arguing that it should have seen the massacre coming. And especially that it should have protected its tea pickers from the anticipated violence of maniacally aggressive colleagues and criminal intruders.

But Unilever saw things differently. For three years, it pulled out all the stops to deny the Kenyans their day in court and persuade the judge not to hear their case, denying liability on the grounds that the claimants worked for its wholly owned subsidiary Unilever Tea Kenya. The court ruled in favour of the company in 2018, blocking the only legal route to redress for Johnson and her colleagues.

Unilever pulled out all the stops to deny Kenyans their day in court

During this period, CEO Paul Polman won multiple awards for his moral leadership and commitment to vulnerable women. The United Nations named him a Champion of the Earth in 2015, and the International Center for Research on Women bestowed a Champion for Change Leadership Award on him in 2017. The plaudits reflected his success in reviving William Lever's philanthropic ethos.

Under the motto 'profit through purpose', Polman gave every brand a makeover, often with a feminist touch. He sought to improve women’s confidence by showing 'real women, never models' in advertisements for Dove personal care products. And he suggested drinking Lipton tea created 'a brighter future for our planet'. He was a little vague on the details, but the brand’s website stresses that 'doing well by doing good' is definitely part of it. 

Unilever became known among charitable organisations as the leading example of ethical, even feminist, capitalism, and proof that an inspired CEO can make a difference. But who to, exactly? Certainly not to Anne Johnson and hundreds of her fellow tea pickers on the Lipton plantations in Kenya, who witnessed Unilever turning its back on employees, and certainly not 'doing well by doing good.’

On the plantation

Anne Johnson’s misery began in 2007. The 130 square kilometres of hilly tea plantations where she worked, bordering the town of Kericho in southwestern Kenya, are owned by Unilever Tea Kenya, which produces tea for the Lipton and Pukka brands.

In 2007 they were still a self-sufficient community of some 100,000 people – the 20,000 workers and their families – with their own schools, clinics and shops. It was a diverse community too: the workers came from all corners of the country and belonged to different tribes. The Johnsons were from Kisii, a province two hours' drive away, and identified as members of the Kisii tribe, as did almost half of their fellow workers.

Nearby Kericho, with a population of around 30,000, is the domain of the Kalenjin people. Many of them worked on the plantations, mainly in management positions, while the Kisii and members of other tribes usually earned their living as pickers.

The Kalenjin considered the Kisii to be foreigners, but the tensions between them were not too bad, Anne told us in a telephone interview. Her family felt at home on the plantations. Her two teenage daughters and 11-year-old son were born there, went to school and church and had their friends there. ‘We had nothing to fear and lived in harmony. We even celebrated Christmas on the plantation, without even thinking of going back to our own province. It all only started to change when the elections came.’

Plantation life was hard, Johnson says. ‘We reported at 6.30 in the morning and often didn't finish until 12 hours later.’ The company gave them porridge for lunch. By the time they got home, the children had often already started cooking – usually ugali, a corn dish, or chapattis with rice – knowing that their parents would be hungry after a long working day.

"Most pickers had no savings or homes of their own and were dependent on their employer"

Anne and her husband Makori, also a pseudonym, collected tea leaves in baskets on their backs and were paid by weight. Anne usually worked seven days a week and earned approximately €100 a month; Makori was stronger and averaged €140.

Their family of five had difficulty making ends meet, Anne says. At the end of the month, they usually bought their groceries on credit, or asked for an advance on their next month's salary. The Johnsons, and most other pickers, had no savings or homes of their own, and were dependent on their employer’s goodwill.

The imbalance of power between management and pickers, and its ethnic dimension, became more acute in the weeks leading up to the 27 December 2007 election. Many managers made no secret of their preference for presidential candidate Raila Odinga, the leader of the Orange Democratic Movement, who enjoyed widespread support in Kericho. They even organised campaign meetings with party leaders on the plantations.

The political affiliations of the mainly Kalenjin managers were bad news for the Kisii, and members of other tribes associated with Odinga's rival, Mwai Kibaki of the Party of National Unity. ‘They assumed that as Kisii, we automatically supported Kibaki,’ Anne says. This greatly worsened the relationship between the two groups.

Approaching elections

Anne says it began with harassment. On some mornings, her team leader assigned her work to colleagues from other tribes without explanation, denying her the chance to earn a living on those days. She dared not protest, fearing it would only cause more problems.

What also bothered her was that her manager did not allow her to vote at home in Kisii province. He refused her request for a few days off, for no apparent reason. As a result she and her family had to spend the four-day election period on the plantation, not a pleasant prospect when the atmosphere was growing more political and hostile by the week.

They were threatened with being chased away, and told that something unspecified would happen to them if Odinga lost

Anne says that fellow tea pickers from other tribes turned against minorities, acting secretively and ignoring her overtures. But what scared her most were the leaflets on the plantations, reading ‘Foreigners go home’. She didn’t know who put them up, but she knew they were meant for Kisii and other minorities. She saw more similar posters in Kericho, where the mood was equally hostile.

Many of her fellow workers had similar experiences of intimidation and discrimination. They were threatened with being chased away, told that something unspecified would happen to them if Odinga lost, and advised to leave if they wanted to avoid a bloodbath.

There was great concern in Kenya and abroad about the impending elections. The BBC, Al Jazeera and Reuters had been predicting ethnic violence for weeks, with Kericho at particularly high risk because it was home to so many minority plantation workers. Local authorities even organised peace rallies to calm people down.

Anyone who knew anything about the Kenyan election in 2007 knew they had the potential to end in significant and widespread violence that would largely break down along lines of tribal identity and affiliation, says Tara Van Ho, a human rights lecturer at the University of Essex. She contends that Unilever Tea Kenya and its London parent should have known that as ‘immigrants’, the Kisii and other minorities were vulnerable. ‘Unilever could have set up a process for sending away workers and residents who were from non-local tribes for the period immediately surrounding the election, hired extra security guards, or solidified their buildings to provide better protection.’


Tara Van Ho, University of Essex

"Unilever could have hired extra security guards"

If she could turn back the clock, Anne would have gone to Kisii with her family against her manager's orders. But at the time she felt she had no choice: as a tea picker, you do what you’re told, and besides, she was confident that Unilever would protect her family if things got really dangerous. She believed in its philosophy of taking responsibility for the welfare of its people.

Other workers were less confident and told management about the threatening atmosphere and scary posters. But they were told that it was only politics, or subjected to even more intimidation. One senior ICT manager later stated under oath that he had emailed the personnel department about the threats, but never received a reply. He and another former manager testified that senior staff at Unilever Kenya knew about the danger but were more concerned with securing the company’s premises than with protecting the pickers and their families.

‘Unilever looked after its property, not the safety of its employees'

One manager who worked for Unilever for fifteen years wrote in his sworn statement:

‘There was anticipation that there would be unrest and that the Plantation could be invaded. There were meetings with the senior management, including Richard Fairburn, where we discussed the need to secure company property, factories, machinery, stores, power stations and management houses during the election period. I think there were about three meetings where this was discussed. However, there was no discussion about the security of the tea pluckers and other workers. Measures were taken by the company to secure important installations (such as power stations and factories) with increased Administrative Police and more patrol vehicles were allocated. No thought was given to increasing the security of the residential camps in order to protect the workers.

What I find shocking is that they increased security around important installations, including management housing, but they did not consider the need do so for their own workers. Unilever should have planned for these attacks. They should have understood that the minority tribes were at risk and they should have trained management on how to protect those minorities. We should also have increased security around the residential camps, it would not have been difficult to ask the Government to deploy policemen or the General Service Unit (a government paramilitary unit who are trained in subduing violence) from other areas of Kenya before the attacks took place. I believe this would easily have repelled the attackers who only had crude weaponry. They could also have advised management to automatically permit leave to minority tribes who were at risk.’

Richard Fairburn, the former managing director of Unilever Tea Kenya, told Follow the Money he would not comment on the issue.

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Instead of beefing up security for all workers, or granting them leave, Unilever Tea Kenya forced them to stay on the plantations. According to the testimonies, many senior managers took time off themselves.

According to lawyer Daniel Leader, Unilever created a situation where its workers remained as ‘sitting ducks’ on the plantations, targets of violence ‘because of their ethnicity and status as migrant workers.'

Clubs and kerosene jars

When it was announced at around 6 pm on Sunday 30 December that Mwai Kibaki had won by a narrow margin, Anne and the children were cooking. They heard people screaming outside, knew something was wrong, and quickly closed their doors.

That night, hundreds of men with machetes, clubs, and kerosene jars entered the plantations and attacked the inhabitants. Their main targets were Kisii, whose huts they marked with Xs. They looted thousands and set them on fire.

The riots were not confined to the plantation or the region around Kericho. Mwai Kibaki’s victory, fiercely contested by Raila Odinga, unleashed a wave of violence across the country that would last for weeks, kill an estimated 1,400 people, and displace half a million.

"Many victims recognised their own colleagues among the attackers"

Years later, the victims’ accounts paint a gruesome picture of exactly what happened on the plantation. The attackers stabbed and set fire to colleagues, and those who tried to hide among the tea bushes were hunted down with dogs. Many victims recognised their own colleagues among the attackers, and would identify them by name and job title in their testimonies.

Hiding among the tea plants

Women and girls were raped by groups of men. Some victims heard their attackers shout that this was not their country, and they should die or get out.

One Kisii tea picker, Mary (not her real name), told Follow the Money that during the outbreak of violence she called her manager and asked for security and getaway cars. She was told to hide among the tea plants. There, in front of her children, she was raped by several men and left unconscious.

Another Kisii woman described in court how she had seen fellow workers armed with machetes and clubs roaming the tea plantations. Five of them, whom she knew by name, beat her back and legs with a metal rod and were about to rape her when a Kalenjin neighbour, who was a nurse, intervened. 

Anne says she doesn't know if the group of men who raped her, her daughters, and her husband in front of their 11-year-old son were coworkers or people from outside the plantation. She recalls that they spoke the local language, and says: 'They blindfolded us so we could not see who they were.'

After the attackers left, Anne, Makori's, and their three children hid in the tea bushes for three nights, and then, covered in blood and mud, found their way to the police station in the village of Koiwa to the south. From there, officers escorted them to Kisii, the only place that seemed safe and where their family had a piece of land.

There was no money for the hospital for their eldest daughter, who had been seriously injured and was growing weaker by the day. Nor for Makori, who had suffered internal bleeding. In the months that followed, both died in the small mud house in Kisii, where Anne and her two remaining children still live.

Anne received her salary from Unilever for that last fatal month of December, and then heard nothing for six months. After that she was invited to return to work on the plantations, which had reopened – she declined.

Ten months later, Anne received a letter from Unilever offering €120 to replace her lost possessions

Even if Anne had dared, she could not leave her son, now in his mid-twenties, alone: 'He developed very bad seizures and panic attacks after what happened and needs constant care.' She cannot afford medical or psychological help, and the children have barely been to school since the massacre. ‘We live off gifts from relatives and neighbours, and the little maize we grow on our land.’

No pay and severe poverty

Ten months after the election violence, in October 2008, Anne received a letter from Unilever Tea Kenya offering €120 to replace her ‘lost possessions’. It praised the moral and material support of Unilever's London headquarters in securing this sum, which was intended to ‘bring normalcy back to our employees and their families.’

Those of Anne's colleagues who did return to work say they received similar compensation, and their pay resumed, but they received no wages in the intervening six months. Since the attack and the theft of their belongings, many were pushed into deep poverty, saddled with big hospital bills, their children's education interrupted.

A male tea picker whose children could no longer attend school wrote to the court that 'the wages I did not receive and the money that was stolen from my home I could have used to educate my chidren.’ He suffers from chronic chest pains, and 'still cannot do any meaningful work that can support my children and my wife.'

Especially shocking for those who returned was the fact that many of their attackers, men who had beaten them up six months earlier, were back at work. They ran into them daily but received no support from management. Instead they were ordered to keep quiet and let bygones be bygones, even if they saw other workers with goods stolen from them.

"Especially shocking was that many of their attackers, men who had beaten them up six months earlier, were also back at work"

Polman in fear of his life

On 26 November 2008, Polman, Cescau and other Unilever employees were in a room at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai when Islamic extremists carried out a massacre. For hours, he and his colleagues lay on the floor in fear, hoping that the terrorists – who would shoot 174 guests and staff members – would pass by their door. In his book on Polman, Jeroen Smit describes how, there on the ground in Mumbai, the CEO thought deeply about 'the fleetingness of life ... and the need to do something good with it… So close to evil, so close to his own death, Paul Polman was suddenly deeply aware that the good forces within people will always win. They must win.’

Polman realised that fighting poverty was the way to prevent massacres like that in the Taj Mahal Palace. In his new role at Unilever, he resolved to bring back William Lever's 'doing well by doing good' mentality.

Feminist ideals – promoting women's rights, gender equality and empowerment – became the cornerstone of Polman’s mission to pursue higher goals. His successor Alan Jope adopted this with enthusiasm when he took office in 2019, saying: 'It pays to invest in women and girls'.

In his time, Polman made grand promises and positioned Unilever as an enlightened and courageous example of a conscientious multinational. ‘Leadership often boils down to making tougher choices,' he told the Financial Times. ‘But you try to be respected [through] values of dignity and respect for the people you deal with.’ Later he told The New York Times: ‘Some people think greed is good. But over and over it's proven that ultimately generosity is better.’

Polman made grand promises and positioned Unilever as an enlightened example of a conscientious multinational

Polman's outrage at sexist stereotypes, outdated cultural norms, and violence against women made him an exception among CEOs. His enthusiasm for lecturing other male executives and appealing to their moral duty to engage in the cause of women, was refreshing.

A resounding success

Polman was also aware that this reputation helped to recruit idealistic millennials. At youth conferences and American business schools, he suggested that working for Unilever's food brands could save just as many lives as at a charity organisation. And he succeeded: Unilever's 2017 annual report stated that 90 per cent of employees were proud to work for the company.

Women's rights and poverty campaigners tripped over one another to reward Polman for his vision and promises. They used his inspirational quotes in their brochures and on social media, gave him awards and appointed him to their advisory boards. He and his colleagues at Unilever couldn’t stop talking about the importance of inclusiveness and partnerships for the cause of women. His strategy of establishing Unilever as a beacon of responsible, enlightened and women-friendly capitalism was a resounding success.

For Polman, 2015 was a year of milestones. The secretary general of the United Nations involved him in drawing up its sustainable development goals, to combat poverty worldwide, and awarded him its highest environmental accolade, naming him a Champion of the Earth.

It was during this period that Anne Johnson and 217 other Kisii survivors made an urgent appeal to Unilever. Fifty-six were victims of rape, and seven lost one or more family members. What they needed was not inspirational words or casual charity, but justice and reparation.

‘The company promised to take care of us, but they didn't,’ Anne says. ‘’So now they have to pay us so we can rebuild our lives.’

‘Failed in duty of care’

On behalf of the victims, Daniel Leader asked the UK’s Supreme Court to hear their case against Unilever Tea Kenya and the group’s London parent company. Unilever, he argued, had breached its obligation to keep its employees safe. It should have known that the Kisii and other minorities were at risk in the election campaign, and taken steps to protect them.

In Kenya, there was no path to justice for the workers, he said. A trial there would leave the survivors and next of kin vulnerable to further aggression, a big risk for those who were back among their former attackers. Moreover, victims in Kenya cannot afford lawyers. In the UK, his firm was working pro bono on their behalf. 

The trial would take three years and Unilever denied any responsibility

The trial would take three years, from 2015 to 2018. Unilever denied responsibility, claiming the case was a Kenyan one and did not belong in a London court. The victims’ fear of reprisals was exaggerated, and they would have done better to bring a lawsuit in Kenya, funded by crowdsourcing among family and friends. It was a curious suggestion: crowdsourcing would have required them to seek publicity in their own country, which would only increase the risk of reprisals.

Unilever also firmly denied that any of its employees were guilty of intimidation and violence. But an ex-manager testified that he was not aware of any internal investigation into this. And even now, five years after the trial began, Unilever will not say whether, and how, it investigated the role of its own people at the time.

In its 2008 annual report the company admits that nine employees died, but does not mention their relatives of employees, such as Anne's daughter. In court, it hid behind its corporate structure, arguing that it was not responsible for employees of a foreign subsidiary, and a London judge should not be dealing with the case.

Under British law, a parent company does not necessarily have a duty of care to employees of business units abroad. However, it does if it exercises a high degree of control over the subsidiary's policy. An ex-manager testified that London did indeed impose its own safety and crisis management protocols on the plantations, required strict monitoring, and also carried out regular checks. He said that ‘top officials like Paul Polman and Pier Luigi Sigismondi also visited Kericho regularly, at least once a year.’

Unilever hid behind its international corporate structure

Unilever was clearly implementing ‘a high degree of control’, the lawyers argued, and should have worked with Unilever Tea Kenya to protect managers and workers from foreseeable violence. But the judge was not convinced, ruling in the summer of 2018 that the parent had no duty of care.

‘Massive human rights violation’

Leader says this decision has blocked their only legal route to reparations, since legal action in Kenya is prohibitively expensive and dangerous. ‘This was the most serious known case of human rights abuse suffered by the largest concentration of Unilever workers anywhere in the world,' he told The Guardian. But Unilever ‘relentlessly hid behind its corporate structure to prevent the case proceeding in the UK’ and to ‘shield themselves from liability for human rights abuses occurring in their corporate group.’

Unilever also claimed in court that it continued to pay salaries after the massacre. It said in a statement on its website – and later in an email to Follow the Money – that the tea pickers who returned to work in 2008 received ‘compensation in kind’, but refused to disclose how much.

In an email to Follow the Money, it states that '93 per cent of all affected people' have returned to work on the plantations, they have all been amply compensated for their stolen possessions, and they have received adequate medical attention. But what does it mean by 93 per cent of people affected'? Does this include victims of rape? These questions also remain unanswered.

Leader says it is highly unlikely that the company knows exactly how many of the tens of thousands of workers were attacked, and to what extent they were affected. Even we don't know how many were raped, maimed, or murdered, and Leader suspects that the 218 people he represented in 2016 were the tip of the iceberg: 'Many of them are far too afraid of retaliation and renewed violence from their colleagues.'

Shortly after the trial, Anne and the others wrote Polman a letter, saying: ‘It is not right that Unilever has said that it helped us when we know that it is not true.' And: 'If Unilever says it is a company that helps and that it cares, then please help make this true of us.’

Polman did not answer. It can’t have been a matter of money. In 2016, just after the Kenyans' lawsuit began, Polman increased Unilever's annual contribution to the United Nations body UN Women from less than $40,000 to nearly $1 million.

This generosity was great PR for Unilever: UN Women praised Polman and Jope in social media, brochures, and annual reports for their leadership and cited their feminist statements on Twitter.

Conversely, Unilever lauded UN Women for its contributions to projects that empowered and protected 'millions of women' worldwide. One of these was the safety guide in which Unilever makes its expertise available to other tea companies, so they too can learn how to protect their female employees from violence. The guide did not mention the experiences of Anne and her colleagues.

Unilever will not tell Follow the Money how much it pays its female tea pickers these days, or how it works with UN Women to improve the position of female workers. And UN Women refuses to answer questions about Anne Johnson and her fight against Unilever.

She advises companies to approach women's rights the way Unilever does: as a business opportunity that need not harm profits

UN Women itself recruited a former Unilever marketing manager as a corporate responsibility consultant. In a recent webinar , she praises her former employer for using women's empowerment to its advantage, making it more resilient as a company. She advises her audience of garment industry entrepreneurs to approach women's rights the way Unilever does: as a business opportunity that doesn't have to hurt profits. It can even help to attract young talent, with the reassurance that they really shall work ‘for a good company'.

Business-case feminism

This win-win strategy and the business-case feminism that underlies it have been criticised. Economists like Genevieve LeBaron, Adrienne Roberts and Sofie Tornhill say that companies get free advertising in return, while distorting and cheapening feminist ideals and principles.

Tornhill, author of The Business of Women's Empowerment, told Follow the Money: ‘The huge empowerment claims of these [multinational women’s] programs and their overwhelmingly positive impact claims sharply contrast with the extremely precarious and vulnerable positions that many of their supposed beneficiaries occupy and conceal their daily struggles. By elevating the voices and good intentions of CEOs, groups like UN Women end up erasing the voices of women they claim to stand for.'


Lydia de Leeuw, Somo

"Hiding behind corporate structures to evade human rights responsibilities and avoid reparations is exactly the opposite of what the guidelines require"

In July 2020, Daniel Leader filed a complaint on behalf of Anne and the other victims with the United Nations working group on business and human rights. They argued that Unilever violated the unenforceable UN Guiding Principles , which the multinational claims to respect. One requirement is that companies must provide redress for victims of human rights violations in their supply chains.

Lydia de Leeuw, of SOMO, hopes the UN working group to agree with Anne that Unilever violated the guidelines. ‘Hiding behind corporate structures to evade human rights responsibilities and avoid reparations is exactly the opposite of what the guidelines require. The UN group has no mandate to force Unilever to pay compensation or reparations, but assuming the case is being dealt with, I hope that the UN can play a constructive role in convincing Unilever to take responsibility and provide reparations to the victims.'

Anne hopes that the case will generate the attention, public pressure and solidarity that she believes are needed to push the group in the right direction. What would success mean to her? 'That would be the best moment of my life.'

Paul Polman declined to respond to Follow the Money's findings and questions

In the previous three months Follow The Money sent Paul Polman three emails with questions – he answered none.

A spokesperson of Unilever PLC in Londen replied the following to our questions about Paul Polman's response to Anne's letter: ‘The letter was posted on a public website despite the legal process being ongoing and the claimants having raised concerns over any publicity related to the case. Given the nature of the issues raised, Unilever responded with a statement on that same website but a decision on the appeal was still pending, so the CEO at the time, Mr Polman, could not have entered into any personal correspondence with the claimants or their representatives.’

The statement mentioned by the spokesperson is to be found here.

 

 

 

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