Unilever, in pursuit of its so-called “Path to Growth” project, has been closing factories and selling off operations it considers insufficiently profitable. Earlier this year it sold its oil and fats refinery business Loders Croklaan to the IOI Corporation Berhad from Malaysia.
Now Unilever has announced plans to sell Pamol Plantations, a subsidiary that operates several palm oil plantations in Malaysia. The IOI Corporation is a leading prospective buyer.
The 2,600 employees on these plantations are represented by three unions, including the IUF-affiliated All Malayan Estates Staff Union (AMESU). Since the unions were not satisfied that Unilever was taking into account the rights, interests and concerns of Pamol employees, they jointly held an informational picket on 1 November.
AMESU General Secretary S. Thamotharam asked the IUF to intervene with Unilever corporate management. On 31 October the IUF wrote to Unilever’s two co-chairmen, asking the company to enter into good faith negotiations with the unions with the goal of incorporating the rights, benefits and working conditions of the employees into any sales agreement. IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald pointed out that in similar situations in the past (e.g., the sale of its speciality chemicals unit) Unilever had met union demands by negotiating specific guarantees that the acquiring company would honor all existing agreements for at least four years.
On 7 November the IUF received a response from the chairman of Pamol Plantations, stating in part:
From the beginning of the sale process, we have made clear to interested parties the high priority Unilever attaches to employee’s welfare after sale of our interest in a business. We intend to seek through negotiations specific contractual agreement with prospective purchasers of Pamol about the protection of existing terms and conditions of employees.
The IUF will work with its affiliates to ensure that this commitment is fully implemented.