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Southeast Asia

Unilever takes down ad banners showing extremist support in Burma

By RJ Whitehead , 03-Jun-2014

969 Movement logos like these were found in Sittwe stores
969 Movement logos like these were found in Sittwe stores

A year after opening its operation in Burma, consumer products giant Unilever is finding itself in hot water this week after advertising banners for the company’s products were found to support the Buddhist extremist movement blamed for a spate of attacks on minority Muslims.

According to Associated Press, store owners in the Rakhine state capital of Sittwe have been displaying the 969 Movement’s banners and logo to show their support of the group as part of their advertising for Unilever’s Knorr lines.

Speaking to the news wire, Sher Mazari, external affairs director for the multinational, said the move by store owners did not reflect Unilever’s views.

"We don't get involved in any political activities," Mazari said. "We are against discrimination of any form, religion, ethnic, whatsoever, so this was done completely without our knowledge.”

Religious violence in Sittwe is responsible for the killing of 280 Muslims, with a further 140,000 forced to flee their homes in the state over the last two years. 

Most of the victims are stateless Rohingya Muslims chased down by Buddhist assailants.

Unilever has since removed the banners and replaced them with new advertising. According to Mazari, some business owners had asked a Unilever contractor to include the symbol next to their shop names on the banners.

The company re-entered the Burma market in May last year with full business operations including a new manufacturing facility and new headquarters in Rangoon. 

Central to its business there is an emphasis on sustainable growth and development of the country, which has recently emerged as a burgeoning economy after years of isolation. 

Unilever has since launched a health and hygiene programme focused on school-going children, with the aim of reaching 4m children within the next two years.

It is also support local farmers with sustainable practices, and plans to help develop Myanmar as a regional sourcing base for agricultural commodities such as coconut sugar.

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