Retailers boycott Reckitt Benckiser over steriliser deaths

South Korea’s Lotte Mart, Coupang and Ticketmonster are bypassing UK company

South Korea-based retailers are boycotting UK consumer goods giant Reckitt Benckiser after the company issued a statement earlier this week accepting “full responsibility” for the damage caused to consumer health by its Oxy Humidifier Sterlizers.

Reckitt Benckiser is the parent company of a number of well established cosmetic, personal care and household brands including E45, Veet, Clearasil, Scholl, Durex, Air Wick, Calgon.

Now, after public outcry in South Korea, hypermarket Lotte Mart – which says it aims to be the number one distribution company in Asia by 2018 – is reported by Reuters to have stopped ordering Reckitt Benckiser products completely. E-commerce companies Coupang and Ticketmonster also said they would stop selling Reckitt Benckiser products.

By Minseong Kim via Wikimedia Commons

On 2 May, the company took part in a televised conference and issued a public statement addressing the damage of its Oxy Humidifier Sterilizers. Humidifiers are commonly used in Asia in homes and offices to add moisture to air and alleviate breathing problems. Sterilisers are used for routine cleaning of humidifiers.

The Oxy brand launched a humidifier steriliser product in Korea in 1996 and, in 2001, Reckitt Benckiser acquired Oxy rebranding it as Oxy RB. But in 2011, the Korean Centre for Disease Control found a link between the Humidifier Sterilizer product and lung injury prompting Reckitt Benckiser to withdraw the product from the market.

However, it since emerged that the product caused health damage to consumers and the deaths of 95 people. According to Reuters, 530 people in South Korea lodged complaints of lung problems from using humidifier sterilisers manufactured by more than 12 companies. Of those, 177 had used the steriliser sold by Reckitt Benckiser.

In the statement issued, Reckitt Benckiser said: “Oxy RB and RB have expressed our sincere apologies to all those victims of the HS tragedy in Korea and stated absolutely our determination to do the right thing for the victims and their families. 
“We have accepted full responsibility for the role that this product played in these health issues, including deaths, in Korea and while we acknowledge that we cannot repair the harm that has been done, we have stated our continuing intention to do whatever we can to provide full resolution to these cases.”

Reckitt Benckiser said it had announced its intention to start a Compensation Fund for those impacted to be managed by independent experts, as well as a Humanitarian Fund for those that believe they have been affected by the steriliser. It concluded: “We want to reassure consumers we have taken significant steps to ensure the safety of our products and to avoid any possibility of recurrence.”

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