Lever Brothers was a British manufacturing company founded in 1885 by brothers William Hesketh Lever (1851–1925) and James Darcy Lever (1854–1916). They invested in and successfully promoted a new soap-making process invented by chemist William Hough Watson. In 1930, Lever Brothers merged with Margarine Unie to form Unilever.
Starting with a small grocery business begun by his father, William Lever and his brother James entered the soap business in 1885 by buying a small soap works in Warrington. The brothers teamed up with a Bolton chemist, William Hough Watson, who became an early business partner. Watson invented the process which resulted in a new soap, using glycerin and vegetable oils such as palm oil, rather than tallow. The resulting soap was a good, free-lathering soap, at first named Honey Soap then later named "Sunlight Soap". Production reached 450 tons per week by 1888. Larger premises were built on marshes at Bromborough Pool on the Wirral Peninsula at what became Port Sunlight. Though the company was named Lever Brothers, William Lever's brother and co-director James never took a major part in running the business. He fell ill in 1895, probably as a result of diabetes, and resigned his directorship two years later.
Employee welfare and use of forced labor
Lever Brothers was one of several British companies that took an interest in the welfare of its British employees. The model village of Port Sunlight was developed between 1888 and 1914 adjoining the soap factory to accommodate the company's staff in good quality housing, with high architectural standards and many community facilities.
Use of forced labor in the Congo
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In the Congo, Lever Brothers, through their subsidiary Huileries du Congo Belge (HCB), utilized forced labour. 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.
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."
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. 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 too few of them, and that the number of beds should be quadrupled.
A report signed on 29 January 1931 by Pierre Ryckmans and two others appointed by the minister discusses the quota system in use by the HCB at the time. Ryckmans' report quoted some directives issued by company headquarters at Leverville for Kwenge sector, dated 23 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." 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."
By 1900 "Lifebuoy", "Lux" and "Vim" brands had been added and subsidiaries had been set up in the United States, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Germany and elsewhere. By 1911 the company had its own oil palm plantations in Belgian Congo and the Solomon Islands. Lever Brothers Ltd also acquired other soap companies including A&F Pears, Gossage's of Widnes, Watson's of Leeds, Crosfield's of Warrington, Hazlehurst & Sons of Runcorn and Hudson's of Liverpool. The town Leverville (the present-day Lusanga) was founded in the Bandundu district of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, named after William Lever.
Lever Brothers rode the cresting late-Victorian consumer revolution to build a vast worldwide industrial empire. Four years[clarification needed] after William Lever's death in 1925, his enterprises were amalgamated as Unilever. By 1930, it employed 250,000 people and in terms of market value, was the largest company in Britain.
The company grew and operated until 1930, when it merged with a Dutch margarine company, Margarine Unie, to form Unilever, the first modern multinational company. As part of the agreement, Lever Brothers changed its name to Unilever plc, and forms the British half of the dual-listed company. Although the two companies have separate shareholders and stock exchange listings, they have a common board of directors and essentially operate as one company.
The Lever Brothers name was kept for a time as an imprint, as well as the name of the US subsidiary, Lever Brothers Company, and a Canadian subsidiary, Lever Brothers Limited. Lever Brothers was sold to a US capital firm Pensler Capital Corporation and renamed Korex in 2008. Korex Don Valley assumed operations of the Lever Brothers Toronto plant. It has since closed and gone bankrupt. The Toronto plant is now being redeveloped into an office and industrial district by First Gulf Corporation.
Among its presidents was Charles Luckman who in the 1950s championed the construction of the Lever House in New York City. Luckman left the company before the building's completion, moving on to a notable architectural career, including the design of Madison Square Garden, the Theme Building and master plan for Los Angeles International Airport, the Aon Center, and major buildings at the Kennedy Space Center and Johnson Space Center.
- Breeze detergent
- Lever & Kitchen
- Lever Brothers Factory originally located in Balmain, New South Wales, Australia
- Port Sunlight
- Jeannifer Filly Sumayku, Unilever: Providing Enjoyable and Meaningful Life to Customers, The President Post, 22 March 2010
- "Unilever: A company history". BBC. 22 February 2000. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
- Macqueen, Adam (2005). The King of Sunlight: How William Lever Cleaned Up the World. Unilever first started out in new zealand wellington petone but then later on got moved to australia. Random House. p. 144. ISBN 978-0-552-15087-3.
- Brian Lewis (2008). "So Clean": Lord Leverhulme, Soap and Civilization. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
- Marchal, Jules (2008). 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. 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.
- Rich, Jeremy (Spring 2009). "Lord Leverhulme's Ghost: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo (review)". Project Muse. Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
- Buell, Raymond Leslie (1928). The native problem in Africa, Volume II. New York: The Macmillan Company. pp. 540–544.
- Lewis, Brian (2008). "Sunlight for Savages". So Clean: Lord Leverhulme, Soap and Civilisation. Manchester: Manchester University Press. pp. 188–190.
- 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.
- Makelele, Albert. This is a Good Country: Welcome to the Congo. pp. 43–44.
- De Witte, Ludo (January 9, 2016). "Congolese oorlogstranen: Deportatie en dwangarbeid voor de geallieerde oorlogsindustrie (1940-1945)". DeWereldMorgen.be. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
- "Lord Leverhulme". History. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
- Mitchell, Donald (2014). The Politics of Dissent: A Biography of E D Morel. SilverWood Books.
- "Un autre regard sur l'Histoire Congolaise: Guide alternatif de l'exposition de Tervuren" (PDF). p. 14. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- "Old soap factory getting a facelift". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. 1 February 2012. Retrieved 27 April 2015.
- Muschamp, Herbert (1999-01-28). "Charles Luckman, Architect Who Designed Penn Station's Replacement, Dies at 89". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-02-10.
- Media related to Lever Brothers at Wikimedia Commons