Unilever Banners in Burma Used Extremist Symbol

By The Associated Press 3 June 2014

Rangoon — Consumer products giant Unilever scrambled on Monday to remove advertising banners from shops in western Burma that prominently displayed the symbol of the Buddhist extremist movement blamed for a wave of bloody attacks against minority Muslims.

Photos viewed by The Associated Press showed the large green banners stretched over storefronts in the Arakan State capital, Sittwe. Unilever confirmed stores were using the banners.

Sher Mazari, external affairs director for the multinational, which makes everything from Colgate toothpaste to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, said the symbol was included in the advertising without the company’s authorization.

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

Sittwe has been the hotbed for sectarian violence that has killed about 280 people and forced another 140,000 to flee their homes in the last two years. Most of the victims have been stateless Rohingya Muslims chased down by Buddhist mobs.

Burma only recently emerged from a half-century of brutal military rule and self-imposed isolation.

With the lifting of international sanctions in the last three years, some of the world’s biggest companies have started doing business in the predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million, including Unilever.

The banners advertising the company’s Knorr products were removed Monday, said Nandar Thaung, an official in Unilever’s Rangoon office, and replaced with new advertisements.

Mazari said by telephone from Bangkok that some business owners decided on their own to ask a Unilever contractor to include the symbol next to their shop names on the banners.