Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Boycott Veetee Rice

After yesterday's complex corporate labyrinth I though I'd keep things a bit more straightforward.

Veetee are one of the largest rice suppliers in the UK retail trade, supplying both Veetee and supermarket own-brands. Veetee are also unique in rice manufacturing, as they are the only company to have factories in both India and Pakistan, making them perfectly place to supply both communities.
Moni VarmaMoni Varma had his early education in Ludhiana before moving to Malawi and the UK. He grew up in Malawi. The youngest of eight siblings, he was born to Indian parents, both from business families, but spent his formative years in Africa. After completing his O levels, Varma headed to India to continue his studies, but returned to Malawi soon after with the ultimate view of moving to the UK.

He started as a salesman for a printing firm and demonstrated the passion for business that came to characterise his career. Despite a starting salary of only £30, he was regularly taking home up to five times that with commission. His talent for selling had been recognised, and the desire to study began to recede.

Varma invested £300 in a small machine to manufacture barbed wire - the company desperately needed a salesman but couldn't afford to pay. Not for the last time in his career, Moni Varma took the risk and the job - solely on commission and a stake in the company. Within 3 years, capitalising on the developing country's need for steel, Varma had grown the company enormously and had become a major player in the burgeoning steel industry.

In 1987 he founded Veetee Rice.

On 18th October, Moni Varma signed an open letter calling on the Chancellor to continue the coalition government's plans to reduce the public finance deficit in one term, plans which included swingeing cuts on the poorest members of society and which risk pushing this country into a double-dip recession, the likes of which has not been seen since the last time the tories took power and tanked the economy in the early 80's.

For this reason Moni Varma is considered a fully signed up member of the Big Business Society and we urge people to boycott Veetee Rice.

On the 19th October Moni Varma was interviewed on Channel 4 News anout the letter. This is a transcript of the converstion -

Jon Snow: Alan Johnson’s told us that this letter is just a wheeze got up by Conservative Party central office. Do you feel part of a wheeze?

Moni Varma: No not really.

Snow: Who asked you to sign?

Varma: Who asked me to sign? I think, you know I have several friends there who…but I agree with the policy. Let’s forget about who asked me to sign. I can name that if that makes any difference, right? I can name the person. Stanley Fink who is now the treasurer of the party mentioned and then I looked through all the aspects of the cut, I fully agree that somebody has got to take this measure.

Stanley Fink is a Hedge Fund Manager and Treasurer of the Conservative Party. It looks like the organisation of the letter came not from the business people themselves but from Tory Central Office, not that anyone would be surprised at that. What would be interesting would be to know which business people were asked and refused to sign it.

This is not the first time Veetee has run into trouble.

In 2002 Veetee Rice had its knuckles rapped by advertising watchdogs for "misleading" magazine ads. Veetee's problems came after rival Tilda complained about a trade ad in which it boasted being the number one supplier to UK retailers. Veetee submitted research suggesting its share of the own label rice market was bigger than its competitors. But the ASA noted the ad was for Veetee branded rice and did not say the claim included own label. It asked Veetee not to repeat the ad. The ASA also upheld a complaint that the total weight of rice Veetee sold annually was not enough to make the 360 million servings claimed in the ad. Veetee said it stood by its claims but would abide by the ruling.

In 2006 Veetee Rice Ltd pleaded guilty to contravening regulation 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

On 11 September 2006 Veetee Rice employee Balwinder Singh Aulkh accessed a rice silo and his leg became trapped in the underfloor screw conveyor. He died from his injuries. The company had failed to ensure that dangerous parts of the machinery could not be accessed by members of staff, or that dangerous moving parts were stopped before anyone entered the danger zone. Mike Walters, HSE Principal Inspector in Kent, said: "This incident could so easily have been prevented if Veetee Rice Limited had ensured that a suitable system was in place to prevent access to the silo unless the screw conveyor was electrically isolated. "If the company had fitted a simple padlock on the access hatch to the rice silo - which could have cost as little as £10 or £15 - then this tragic incident would not have happened. The level of fine and costs awarded in this case should act as a stark warning to all employers to take their responsibility for health and safety seriously." Veetee Rice was fined £140,000 and ordered to pay costs of £20,500.

There are many other brands of rice on the market,including Tilda, but be wary of supermarket own brands as these can be Veetee products repackaged. I am still trying to establish which supermarkets Veetee supply and if you know would welcome this information.

Update 7th November 2011

There are two bits of news concerning Moni Varma. Firstly he is apparently suing Lakshmi Mittal over a dispute concerning Nigerian oil fields, and secondly he is reported to be trying to Sharwoods, the food company. If he succeeds in buying Sharwoods the boycott will obviously be extended to include this brand. I'll try to keep an eye on events.

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