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Lever Brothers

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This is what started it all.

Lever Brothers was a British company that was founded in 1895. It was originally a soap-manufacturing business. Its well-known brands included Sunlight soapWikipedia, Lifebuoy soapWikipedia, Lux soapWikipedia and the VimWikipedia range of household cleaning products. In 1930, Lever Brothers merged with the Dutch company Margarine Unie to form Unilever.[1] By 2012, Unilever had become the world's largest consumer goods company in terms of revenue.[2] Amnesty International has expressed disapproval of Unilever's supply chain.[3] Paul Polman, as Unilevr's CEO, led a curious and very interesting campaign of introducing responsible corporate business practices, including the drive to make the company sustainable and change the work place culture. Considering how Unilever had a very dark history in the past and some recent investigations of modern sleazy practices it was quite the high bar challenge and it isn't clear if there was a political agenda behind Polman's ideology. There were many calls to get rid of him as the mighty dollar always speaks. He resigned at the end of 2018 and time will tell if he made much of a difference.

Use of forced labour[edit]

Lever Brothers, through its subsidiary Huileries du Congo Belge (HCB), utilized forced labour in the Belgian Congo. Palm cutters failing to meet requirements regarding compulsory cultivation of crops were liable to prison sentences, where the chicotte, a type of whip, was used.[4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14]

The Huileries du Congo Belge (HCB) recruited Africans by force, their numerous agents accompanied by armed auxiliaries. The agents encountered increasing resistance during their tours, or else found villages emptied before they arrived. The first clashes between HCB's labour recruiters and villagers took place in July 1914. For example, a recruiter named Buelens was ment by a volley of arrows in the village of Kasamba, and was slightly wounded in the chest. A recruiter named Vanherenthals was attacked in the village of Kisimuna, and suffered serious arrow wounds in the arm and chest. A recruiter named Sosson was met by a volley of arrows, and one of the men accompanying him was wounded in the leg. A recruiter named Monard was also greeted by arrows.[15]

A decree issued 16 March 1922 by the Belgian government in the Congo, which remained in force for the remainder of the colonial period, albeit with a few modifications, made provision for prison sentences of two to three months for "dishonesty" (reneging upon their legal obligations to work), and prison sentences of a fortnight for violations of work discipline. Francois Beissel was dissatisfied with a number of the measures laid down in the decree, and left record of this in a letter dated 22 November 1922, which he wrote to Doctor Albert Duren, Inspector of Industrial Hygiene. Regarding absenteeism, Beissel wrote, "As the man hired could not renege more seriously upon his obligations than by abstaining from work without a plausible excuse, I would venture to hope that the prison sentences recommended would be applied with all due rigor in the case of unjustified, repeated absences. I would be glad to receive some reassurance in this regard. Beissel also forwarded a copy of his letter to the provincial governor, also asking him to combat absenteeism with prison sentences between two and three months. Commissioner general Alphonse Engels, the provincial governor's deputy, responded on his behalf, saying that a sentence of two months could be imposed, but a fortnight seemed more appropriate to him, since the employer would not have to prove that the worker had been dishonest for the shorter sentence to be applied.[16]

Between 25 and 30 November 1923, Dr. Emile Lejeune, chief medical officer for the Congo-Kasai province, toured the HCB's Lusanga circle for six days documenting the extent to which black-workers were considered a cheap expendable resource. He drafted a report of his inspection, dated 8 December 1923. The HCB was employing approximately 6,500 workers in the areas he inspected. He found inadequate documentation of mortality rates, but notes another report citing a mortality rate of 9% in three months among certain groups of workers. He said that the most frequent cause of death recorded in 1923 were bronchial infections and pneumonia, though there were also some from septicemia and at least one from tuberculosis. He noted that the HCB was failing to supply blankets (in violation of ordinance 47, according to Jules Marchal), and stated that he regarded blankets as an "absolute necessity", given that the majority of deaths were from respiratory ailments. He also noticed children and young adolescents in Leverville pushing wagons and loading timber and fruit onto boats. In his opinion they were not of age that they should do such work. HCB classified some workers as local (those whose villages were not more than ten hours from the workplace) and some as imported. Those classified as local were not issued rations but were paid slightly more. Those classified as imported were issued rations and were paid slightly less. No rations were issued on Sundays. Black workers were supplied with only one meal a day, though some saved a portion to eat later. In Dr. Lejeune's opinion, the rations supplied to the imported workers provided far too few proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and calories. Due to lack of pans and utensils, the preparation of food for the black workers was often unhygienic or unpleasing. Some imported workers, such as the Yanzi, arranged for caravans of provisions to be brought from their homes to supplement the inadequate provisions provided by the HCB. Dr. Lejeune wrote that, "Anyone familiar with the abundant portions the blacks ordinarily consume, and the hygienic conditions under which food is prepared in the villages, will not be surprised at their dissatisfaction with the diet offered at the company posts." Dr. Lejeune noted that the camp and Leverville lacked latrines, kitchens, and a rubbish pit, and was far too crowded. He noted that the Yanzi were kept in camp consisting of straw houses in which 10 to 20 men sleep in cramped conditions, on pallets that should only accommodate 7 or 8 men at the most. Newcomers were often given no shelter at all and left to fend for themselves. No clothing was provided for blacks. Dr. Lejeune stated that "Rations, accommodation and clothing are inadequate, and on each count the company is to blame," and that, "I am persuaded that these imported workers, when they complete their term of three months, have lost weight, when they ought to have gained some, and I can well understand workers shunning work with the HCB, where they find nothing to attract them, and where nothing is done to render their leisure more pleasant." Dr. Lejeune saw one cemetery with 150 graves, and another cemetery with almost 500 graves. However, many workers, upon falling ill, went back home to die, so this does not tell us how many fatalities there were. Dr. Lejeune found the number of doctors, and available equipment and shelter for the sick to be inadequate.[17]

Sidney Edkins, the managing director of HCB, wrote a letter to Governor Engels, dated 18 December 1923, claiming that the natives working for the HCB were better fed than they would be in their own villages. Apparently feeling entitled to black labour, he claimed that, "The reason for the failure of our recruitment is purely and simply the repugnance felt by blacks for every kind of work and every kind of sustained effort. The villagers even refuse to carry the luggage of civil servants, as our agent Geno and myself have observed. Our agent Cotton has reported that tons of rubber, grass and palm-nuts rotted in the villages, simply because of a reluctance to transport them." Edkins also claimed that the labour shortage "cannot endure for long without compromising the very existence of our interests, which represent so large a part of economic activity in the Colony." Edkins asked the Governor, measures in favor of the HCB that they might obtain more workers.[18]

Engels replied on 26 December, agreeing that the labour shortage was liable to compromise "if not the existence, at any rate, the further development of your interests." However, he disagreed that this situation had nothing to do with how the HCB treated their workers. In particular, he was not persuaded by Edkin's argument that the natives were better fed by the HCB than in their own villages "since the native is not obliged, when in his own village, to do the work that you ask of him." Like Edkins, Engels also believed that "the laziness of the native constitutes a very grave obstacle to recruitment." Engels expressed his appreciation for "all industry has done to transform the working conditions in this country, by making the best of a scanty workforce and by avoiding the waste of raw materials." He noted that the head of the province's medical service wrote in all conscience that "the territorial administrator should refuse to advise the natives to go and work in your concerns." He stated that, "This declaration, the seriousness of which will not have escaped our civil servant, will receive, I do not doubt, your closest attention. If it has not led me to alter my directives to the territorial authorities forthwith, this is because I know I can place my trust in you and that, once you are aware of the real situation, you will not hesitate to do everything in your power to render it easier for us--to make it possible for us-- to continue with the assistance which as been accorded to you up until now."[19]

Interim Governor-General Leon Bureau wrote to the Colonial Minister, in a letter dated 4 January 1924, forwarding Dr. Lejeune's report, along with a commentary, in which he mentioned that, "Bosses in Africa persist in blaming their failure to recruit workers on the indolence of the blacks, when the real cause is sought in the fashion in which they treat those in their employ."[20]

Sidney Edkins submitted a defense against the Lejeune report, a memorandum 26 pages long with appendices dozens of pages long. Edkins' defense was forwarded from Engels to Bureau. In the report, the HCB made many excuses, for example, the memorandum claimed that providing a pagne and a blanket for men hired for only three months would effectively double their wage. [21] As Alphonse Rhodain, a chief medical officer, explained in a note dated 24 January 1924, "In asking the Government for more nurses, here too the HCB is avoiding the issue," and "Up until this point the HCB has in no wise shown that Dr. Lejeune's report is not rigorously accurate. On the contrary, the report is highly accurate, and the HCB cannot contest it. In his report, Dr. Lejeune was supposed to state the facts, and this is what he did. The HCB's proposals were really no concern of his, for they had not even begun to be implemented. In the next 13 pages, the HCB once again does not refute any of Dr. Lejeune's statements of fact, as regards the age of workers (statements iterated by me), children on night shift, accommodation, clothing, or food."[22]

In addition to using forced labor under the conditions described by Dr. Emile Lejeune, the HCB also sought monopoly on the right to buy palm fruit.[23]

Reports by Rene Mouchet and Victor Daco, shows that some limited improvements were made to the condition of the HCB's workers by 1928 and 1929. However, the HCB was still using forced labor. According to Victor Daco, head of the sanitation service for the Congo-Kasai, "The current conception of work, the ultimate aim of which is above all to boost production, is based on the notion, in my view erroneous, of the company holding absolute property rights not only in the soil conceded to it in order to add value to it, but also in the native who used to live there freely, and who now finds himself deprived of the right to dispose of the fruits of his labor as he wishes. The heads of the posts where production drops are all too often engaged in 'shaking up recalcitrant cutters'." Women and children were still being worked. Men would cut fruit or work at the factory. 9 out of 10 porters were women. Mouchet saw about 30 children, 6 to 8 years old, carrying bricks for factory at Kimbinga. Each load was 5 to 6 bricks, weighing at least two kilos. According to Mouchet, the ration for imported workers included adequate calories, but lacked variety and fresh food. Local cutters received a higher wage instead of ration. Daco recommended that local workers should be fed just as imported workers were. Accommodations at many camps had been improved, and there were houses made of baked brick or adobe. However some camps, such as the villages of the Yanzi, were still in a deplorable state. Overcrowding continued to be an issue, as houses were too few in number, in Daco's opinion. Daco believed the existing hospitals were in good state, but that there were two few of them, and that the number of beds should be quadrupled.[24]

An report signed on 29th January 1931 by Pierre Ryckmans and two others appointed by the minister discusses the quota system in use by the HCB at the time. The contracts for most imported workers at the time, which many had been forced to sign, specified 200 crates in 6 months (5,000 kilos). The HCB did not vary the monthly quotas to account for seasonal variations in palm fruit yield, and in practice enforced a quota of 40 kilos per day. From an abridged version of this report, "A more or less constant output can only be achieved ... by imposing an effort upon the natives that is in inverse proportion to the natural production of the palm groves. Hence ... the grievances of state officials "harassed by complaints, to borrow a phrase used by one of them, invariably during the rainy season, hence the excessive pressure put upon the cutters by some company agents, who fear being in the company's bad books if production should fall; hence, finally, the bitterness and disgust for the occupation of the cutter felt by the workers, who are accused of laziness and of ill will, and who are sometimes even prosecuted." Ryckmans' report quoted some directives issued by company headquarters at Leverville for Kwenge sector, dated 23rd March 1930. One of the directives stated that, "It is your responsibility to organise the cutters' deliveries so as to obtain on a regular bases an average production of 40 crates per month." The directives also discuss denying cutters who failed to give satisfaction leave to return to their villages. The Ryckmans report continued, "What is an agent to do upon receiving such directives, except abide by them? He will harass the natives, pester them, set capitas and sentries on their heels, punish them for having failed to harvest non-existent fruit, while waiting until such a time that, through the above-mentioned labour contract, he may have recourse to the state to apply still more effective sanctions to the "recalcitrant" ... Is it any wonder that the occupation [of fruit cutter] has a bad reputation?" Ryckmans recommended that the quotas should vary throughout the year to correlate to the rate at which clusters ripened. The Ryckmans report also stated, "We reckon that the employment of state messengers ought generally to be condemned. They understand just one thing, namely, that they are responsible for getting people to work, and they are ready to use any means possible to carry out this mission." In short, as Jules Marchal summarized the report, "the exploitation of palm groves in Lusanga circle was a system of forced labour pure and simple."[25]

Ryckmans' report stands in contradiction to what some minimisers tell us about how quotas supposedly work under slavery, such as, "Well, in order to compel the slaves to produce (such as picking cotton), the owners and their subordinates would have to announce minimum standards of output, below which the slaves would be punished. In setting this threshold, the owners couldn’t be too unreasonable, because frequent physical punishments would reduce the health of the slaves."[26] Even Pierre Ryckmans, a man who admitted to not opposing forced labour in principle,[27] did not consider the HCB's quota system to be "reasonable".[28]

In 1931, recruitment efforts on behalf of the HCB played a major part in sparking the revolt of the Pende.[29]

In 1959, the HCB earned a net profit of about 255,920,000 francs from the Belgian Congo. During the last five years of the colonial regime, the HCB earned a total net profit of about 1,203,300,000 francs.[30]

References[edit]

  1. See the Wikipedia article on Lever Brothers.
  2. See the Wikipedia article on Unilever.
  3. The Great Palm Oil Scandal: Labour Abuses Behind Big Brand Names. https://www.amnestyusa.org/files/the_great_palm_oil_scandal_embargoed_until_30_nov.pdf
  4. Marchal, Jules (2008). "Afterword". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. p. 217. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4.  First published as Travail forcé pour l'huile de palme de Lord Leverhulme: L'histoire du Congo 1910-1945, tome 3 by Editions Paula Bellings in 2001.
  5. Rich, Jeremy (Spring 2009). "Lord Leverhulme’s Ghost: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo (review)". Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History. Retrieved 17 March 2018. 
  6. Buell, Raymond Leslie (1928). The native problem in Africa, Volume II. New York: The Macmillan Company. pp. 540-544. 
  7. Lewis, Brian (2008). "Sunlight for Savages". So Clean: Lord Leverhulme, Soap and Civilisation. Manchester: Manchester University Press. pp. 188-190. 
  8. Edmondson, Brad (2014). "10: The Sale Agreements". Ice Cream Social: The Struggle for the Soul of Ben & Jerry's. San Francisco, California: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. 
  9. Makelele, Albert. This is a Good Country: Welcome to the Congo. pp. 43-44. 
  10. De Witte, Ludo (January 9, 2016). "Congolese oorlogstranen: Deportatie en dwangarbeid voor de geallieerde oorlogsindustrie (1940-1945)". Retrieved 17 March 2018. 
  11. "Lord Leverhulme". Retrieved 17 March 2018. 
  12. Mitchell, Donald (2014). The Politics of Dissent: A Biography of E D Morel. SilverWood Books. 
  13. "Un autre regard sur l'Histoire Congolaise: Guide alternatif de l’exposition de Tervuren". p. 14. Retrieved 17 March 2018. 
  14. Rutz, Michael A. (2018). King Leopold's Congo and the "Scramble for Africa": A Short History with Documents. Hackett Publishing. p. 19. 
  15. Marchal, Jules (2008). "1: The Early Years (1911-1922)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 6-7. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4.  First published as Travail forcé pour l'huile de palme de Lord Leverhulme: L'histoire du Congo 1910-1945, tome 3 by Editions Paula Bellings in 2001.
  16. Marchal, Jules (2008). "1: The Early Years (1911-1922)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 19-20. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4.  First published as Travail forcé pour l'huile de palme de Lord Leverhulme: L'histoire du Congo 1910-1945, tome 3 by Editions Paula Bellings in 2001.
  17. Marchal, Jules (2008). "2: The Lejeune Report (1923)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 27-35. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4.  First published as Travail forcé pour l'huile de palme de Lord Leverhulme: L'histoire du Congo 1910-1945, tome 3 by Editions Paula Bellings in 2001.
  18. Marchal, Jules (2008). "2: The Lejeune Report (1923)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 37-38. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4.  First published as Travail forcé pour l'huile de palme de Lord Leverhulme: L'histoire du Congo 1910-1945, tome 3 by Editions Paula Bellings in 2001.
  19. Marchal, Jules (2008). "2: The Lejeune Report (1923)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 38-39. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4.  First published as Travail forcé pour l'huile de palme de Lord Leverhulme: L'histoire du Congo 1910-1945, tome 3 by Editions Paula Bellings in 2001.
  20. Marchal, Jules (2008). "2: The Lejeune Report (1923)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. p. 39. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4.  First published as Travail forcé pour l'huile de palme de Lord Leverhulme: L'histoire du Congo 1910-1945, tome 3 by Editions Paula Bellings in 2001.
  21. Marchal, Jules (2008). "2: The Lejeune Report (1923)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 40-43. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4.  First published as Travail forcé pour l'huile de palme de Lord Leverhulme: L'histoire du Congo 1910-1945, tome 3 by Editions Paula Bellings in 2001.
  22. Marchal, Jules (2008). "2: The Lejeune Report (1923)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 43-45. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4.  First published as Travail forcé pour l'huile de palme de Lord Leverhulme: L'histoire du Congo 1910-1945, tome 3 by Editions Paula Bellings in 2001.
  23. Marchal, Jules (2008). "3: The Establishment of a Monopoly in the Circles". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4.  First published as Travail forcé pour l'huile de palme de Lord Leverhulme: L'histoire du Congo 1910-1945, tome 3 by Editions Paula Bellings in 2001.
  24. Marchal, Jules (2008). "5: In the Basongo and Lusanga Circles (1923-1930)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 94–98. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4.  First published as Travail forcé pour l'huile de palme de Lord Leverhulme: L'histoire du Congo 1910-1945, tome 3 by Editions Paula Bellings in 2001.
  25. Marchal, Jules (2008). "8: Pierre Ryckmans' Report on Lusanga (1931)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 139-142. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4. 
  26. Murphy, Robert. Slavery Could Not Last in an (Otherwise) Free Market. March 1, 2014. https://www.mises.ca/slavery-could-not-last-in-an-otherwise-free-market/
  27. Marchal, Jules (2008). "8: Pierre Ryckmans' Report on Lusanga (1931)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. p. 137. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4. 
  28. Marchal, Jules (2008). "8: Pierre Ryckmans' Report on Lusanga (1931)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 139-142. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4. 
  29. Marchal, Jules (2008). "9: The Revolt of the Pende (1931)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4. 
  30. "Un autre regard sur l'Histoire Congolaise: Guide alternatif de l’exposition de Tervuren". p. 23. Retrieved 22 March 2018.