I posted about T2F’s experience with Unilever and our decision to take a stand at 9:00 am on 14th October 2010. Comments soon started coming in and people started re-tweeting and sharing the link on their Facebook profiles. At 1:30 pm, I wrote a letter to Mr. Ehsan Malik, the Chairman and CEO of Unilever.
Dear Mr. Malik,
I trust you are well.
My name is Sabeen Mahmud and I am the founder of a not-for-profit organization called PeaceNiche, based out of Karachi. Before I founded PeaceNiche, I ran a company called b.i.t.s. which worked very closely with Unilever Pakistan Limited, prior to your becoming CEO.
PeaceNiche’s first project is called The Second Floor (T2F) and in July 2010, Unilever used our services. I wanted to bring the case to your attention; not because I seek your support, but just so that you know …
My blog post on the situation can be viewed here:
T2F vs Unilever: Game On
Despite my distaste for large corporations, Unilever was dear to me once upon a time. b.i.t.s. worked so closely with the company that we felt like a part of the team. However, I am cognizant of the fact that the only reason we didn’t suffer then was because we dealt directly with people like Margery Rehman, Paul Keijzer, Musharaf Hai, and other directors who ensured that we got paid on time. Countless small vendors, freelancers, and third-party suppliers typically do not have that kind of access … and, why should they need to?
What has happened to us is standard practise. However, there is no reason for us to go on accepting our fate as if we have no choice. I have decided to take a stand against corporate hegemony and am dedicating my struggle to Saad Khan and all the small companies and freelancers that suffer at the hands of corporations. We are made to feel like beggars when we follow up for our payments and this is absolutely unacceptable.
In the classic film, “Network”, Howard Beale galvanizes people with his impassioned diatribe: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
I hope you will take measures to understand, evaluate, and rectify a system that is rotten to the core.
At 6:55 pm, the Head of Foods at Unilever (I didn’t catch her name) called and said she wasn’t aware that we hadn’t been paid and she was deeply apologetic etc. etc. She had the blog post open in front of her and had read all the comments. I told her that it wasn’t about the money any more and that I had already faced embarrassment and cashflow issues and had to take a small loan to make a payment. I said the priority for us now is fighting the good fight. She said she understood my point and that Unilever needs to improve their accounting systems so that “suppliers” like us who offer one-off services don’t suffer.
At 7:30 pm, I received a very polite response from Mr. Ehsan Malik. He promised that we would receive our payment tomorrow, but more importantly, they will immediately review their systems to ensure that delays do not occur again. He apologized and said that it is important that other suppliers benefit from an improved system. He also said he’d like to meet me and learn more about PeaceNiche’s objectives.
So, an acceptable outcome for 12 hours of activism.
Now, moving on … some people have commented along these lines:
1. This is Pakistan. This is the culture here.
2. Unilever is not the only company that does this.
3. This doesn’t only happen in Pakistan. It happens everywhere.
All of the above are true. So what? I am sick to death of hearing variations of “Yay tau Pakistan hae, yahaan tau aesaa hee hota hae”. Who if not us will challenge the status quo and change things? Of course it’s easier not to take a stand. But for goodness sake, if none of us ever do, then we deserve some of what we get.
Regardless of when Unilever pays us, we are going to initiate work on a corporate watchdog project. More on this soon … Thank you to everyone who stands in solidarity with us.