Twenty years after acquiring the Bango brand of a massively popular black soybean sauce in Indonesia, Unilever continues to rake in significant profits year on year. The cash flow from this local product is so significant that Bango is among Unilever’s top global brands. Despite this, over 700 workers at the sole factory producing Bango are still denied their right to negotiate decent wages.
Having carefully structured the joint venture in a way that gives Unilever full control and no responsibility, the company claims that the local business partner AMB is solely responsible for wage bargaining. But the piece-rate payment system set up by Unilever under its licensed manufacturing limits the available budget for labour costs per product. AMB also pays Unilever subsidiaries rentals fees for everything from the machinery and equipment to office furniture every month. AMB is so indebted, it borrowed money from the employee cooperative.
For more than 8 years local management has told the union that they have no ability to adjust the budget for labour costs without an adjustment in Unilever’s budget for licensed manufacturing. Finally in July 2022, Unilever responded. But instead of paying for Bango products made at the factory in a way that ensures decent wages, Unilever unilaterally introduced a Living Wage calculation that justifies existing low wages.
As the 680 members of the IUF-affiliated FSBMM SPMKB continue their protest actions, Unilever management keeps its distance, watching the protests and keeping a hands-off approach to wages and working conditions. Meanwhile the company keeps a hands-on approach to profits that continue rolling in.