Who is Reckitt?: The COP26 'greenwash' firm behind everyday household products

It was started more than two centuries ago by a Quaker’s son who sold laundry starch and even though its name is little known to the public, Reckitt is the firm behind some of the world’s leading consumer brands.

The company, variously known as Reckitt Benckiser and RB before being renamed last month, presides over a portfolio that includes everyday items found in medicine cabinets, under kitchen sinks, and in utility cupboards.

It includes well-known cleaning brands such as Finish, Vanish, Cillit Bang and Harpic, as well as health products including Clearasil, Dettol, Daviscon, Nurofen, Strepsil and Durex.

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Indeed, at COP26 it will be putting its products to good use, providing supplies of Dettol and advising on the hygiene protocols for a conference taking place during a pandemic.

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Cumulatively, its ownership of such best-selling products is worth a pretty penny. Reckitt’s latest accounts show that it reported an operating profit of £2.16 billion in 2020 on revenue of £13.99bn.

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On its website, Reckitt says that its family of “loved and trusted” brands help to “protect, heal, and nurture” families and communities across the world. But several environmental groups would question that corporate mantra.

In order to make many of those products, Reckitt relies on a wealth of natural raw materials. The firm’s most recent progress report to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil shows that in 2019, it used 134,414 tonnes of palm oil or palm oil products. For that, it relies on a slew of mills based predominantly in Indonesia and Malaysia.

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Alok Sharma, the COP26 president, has praised Reckitt's "clear commitment to combating climate change." Picture: Leon Neal/Getty

Reckitt is not alone. Palm oil is found in around half of all supermarket products, from pizza and doughnuts through to deodorants and lipstick. Why? Because it is cheap, has a high yield, and is resistant to oxidation, meaning that products can have a longer shelf life.

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But as with other mass-produced crops, there is an environmental and social price to pay. According to the WWF, palm oil is a major driver behind deforestation of some of the world’s most biodiverse forests, destroying the habitat of already endangered species like the orangutan, pygmy elephant and Sumatran rhino.

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