Unilever in Myanmar damage control

FMCG major pulls down advertising banners displaying the symbol of a Buddhist extremist movement in restive Rakhine province.

The controversial banners appeared in shops like these in Rakhine province
The controversial banners appeared in shops like these in Rakhine province

Consumer products giant Unilever scrambled on Monday (2 June) to remove advertising banners from shops in western Myanmar (also known as Burma) that prominently displayed the symbol of a Buddhist extremist movement blamed for a wave of bloody attacks on minority Muslims.

According to the company’s local office in Yangon the controversial banners advertising the company’s Knorr products were removed and replaced. According to press reports large green storefront banners in the Rakhine state capital Sittwe advertising Knorr products also prominently carried the religious insignia. Sher Mazari, Unilever's external affairs director, said the symbol was included in the advertisement without the company’s authorisation.

"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."

He told AP 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.

Sittwe has been a 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 ethnic Rohingya Muslims who have been struggling for recognition in the predominantly Buddhist nation.

Myanmar has only recently emerged from a half-century of military rule and self-imposed isolation. With the lifting of international sanctions the country has become the latest frontier for multinationals to do business.

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