The nameless factory behind the Lipton global brand name

Be the best you can be': Unilever's Lipton tea factory in Karachi has no name, no logo and no permanent employees.

Lipton, as one of Unilever's leading billion dollar brands, is aggressively promoted in multi-million dollar advertising campaigns around the world. Consumers know Lipton. If they don’t, Unilever will spend millions to make sure they do.

In stark contrast to these efforts to bring global attention to the Lipton brand name, the factory in Karachi, Pakistan, that produces Lipton tea is nameless. There is no nameplate at the factory gate. No billboards or logos. There’s nothing to indicate any connection to Unilever, or its Lipton brand. That’s probably the point. Unilever Pakistan can claim it has no connection to the 400 to 600 workers employed at the factory making Lipton and Brooke Bond branded tea. Even the nameless factory is not their employer. All of the workers are hired through labour contract agencies. Not a single worker has a direct, permanent employment contract.

Although the nameless factory is known in the area as the ‘Daud Pracha Godown’ (basically a warehouse), it is in fact a major manufacturing operation. After the closure of the Unilever Lipton factory in Karachi in August 2008, and the politically motivated ‘production downturn’ at Unilever Lipton Khanewal designed to undercut the campaign for decent work, the nameless factory is now the major source of Lipton and Brooke Bond tea manufactured in Pakistan.

When the Unilever Lipton factory in Karachi closed last year, eliminating 122 permanent jobs, machinery was moved to the nameless factory to increase its production of Lipton and Brooke Bond tea. And it seems it was not just the machinery that was moved. The Unilever Pakistan Works Manager also moved from the Lipton factory to the nameless factory. According to local sources the former Unilever Pakistan Works Manager is now in charge of a company called ‘Trust Professional’ which is contracted by Unilever Pakistan to produce Lipton tea.

‘Trust Professional’ doesn’t appear on the nameless factory. Nonetheless, the connection with Unilever Pakistan is absolutely clear. In a fresh assault on the hundreds of workers fighting for the right to permanent employment at the Lipton factory in Khanewal, Unilever Pakistan management is using the nameless factory to create even greater fear and insecurity. Earlier this week trucks began transferring Lipton and Brooke Bond packaging material from the Unilever-owned Khanewal factory to the nameless factory in Karachi. Machinery that has been idle for four years is being cleaned and, according to the management staff involved, will be used ‘elsewhere to start production’. So instead of fulfilling its obligations under national laws and international Conventions and guidelines, Unilever Pakistan is resorting to the nameless factory as the ultimate escape from any employer responsibility, while promoting an even more extreme regime of disposable jobs. This, however, is a move that risks permanent damage to the Lipton brand name globally, and no amount of advertising will repair it.