Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Beware of Double Standards

What does the word standard mean? One of the definitions according to Dictionary.com is
an accepted or approved example of something against which others are judged or measured;

something considered by an authority or by general consent as a basis of comparison; an approved model.
Standards give us the bases of determining the safeness or unsafeness of an action, a decision, or a product. Standards give us markers that tell us what lines not to cross when doing so poses safety risks that might be unacceptable.

From this you could already deduce what double standard means, but let's take an actual definition anyway. Dictionary.com defines double standard in quite clear ways as

any code or set of principles containing different provisions for one group of people than for another

a set of principles that allows greater freedom to one person or group than to another

A set of principles establishing different provisions for one group than another
I brought up the subject of double standards on this post because I came across a document that factually tells of double standards practiced by a company that makes billions of dollars annually selling consumers fast-moving consumer goods. I think you'll agree that when you eat something or use a certain product in daily life you expect these products to be safe and of acceptable safety standards. Would you still believe in the safety standards applied by a manufacturing company if they have been found to practice double standards?

I found this document from Stichting Onderzoek Multinationale Ondernemingen (Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations) that contains information on controversial business practices of Unilever, a company that happens to claim it adds vitality to life. As early as 2001 there has been an issue with mercury pollution at the former thermometer factory owned by Unilever located in Kodaikanal India. More than 7 tons of waste material generated by the factory's operations was contaminated with mercury which is highly toxic. The mercury pollution had severe spoiling effects on the environment nearby, and public protests demanded Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) to take full responsibility. With mercury safety standards lacking in India, the Dutch soil clean-up standard for residential areas of 10mg/kg mercury level was initially taken as the standard for HUL to meet. That standard would soon be dropped in preference of adopting 25mg/kg mercury level, a result of HUL having successfully lobbied to use a different standard for India. Unilever doesn't mind a high margin for mercury contamination in Indian soil, but would never accept such a low safety standard on Dutch soil; this clearly smacks of keeping double standards.

Read the brief report for yourself here.

When a company profits heavily from selling consumers worldwide a large portfolio of products deemed perfectly safe and without risks associated with regular usage or consumption, I'd expect that it has no place for double standards anywhere in its practices. But seeing this casts doubts about how the same company could avoid applying double standards in other aspects of its operations. We can only cross our fingers that there are no double standards when it comes to the safety of their products we use everyday.

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