New Project Launched Exploring the Business Operations of Lever Brothers 1900-1930

Posted on: 27 August 2021 by Nick Jones in 2021 Posts

JoTierney and Charles Forsdick
Dr Jo Tierney and Professor Charles Forsdick

The Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences is pleased to welcome Dr Jo Tierney who will be leading a project exploring the business practices of of Lever Brothers from 1900-1930 in the Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) and the Solomon Islands.

The events of 2020, and the growing prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement, brought underrepresented aspects of the history of William Lever to the fore.

This project is the first step in a wider commitment to ensuring a balanced, transparent review and understanding about one of Unilever’s founders and one of the University’s benefactors, William Lever. While Lever’s work is widely acknowledged to have had a significant influence in driving progress on important social issues ranging from women’s rights, workers’ wellbeing and public hygiene, he was involved in business practices in some parts of the world, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Solomon Islands, where Lever Brothers did not respect human rights and deployed unfree labour.

Dr Jo Tierney has been appointed to a postdoctoral post, funded by Unilever, to begin to explore the business operations of Lever Brothers from 1900-1930 in the Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) and the Solomon Islands. Her role is to investigate what records, collections and publications exist that will help us to understand more clearly the sourcing and supply chains of raw materials in these areas, how the Lever Brothers business operated here and the nature of the company’s approach to worker welfare.

The expected outcome will be a database of relevant archives and resources relating to Lever Brothers activity in these colonies, and a report outlining future research potential. The researcher will be expected to work only in Covid-safe conditions.

Dr Tierney’s previous research explored the British textile trade with West Africa, and the global mercantile networks and colonial frameworks which facilitated the export of British commodities. She joins us from the University of Nottingham, where she was a Research Fellow on the Global Lace project funded by Nottingham Museums and Galleries, examining the global reach of the Nottingham lace industry.

Her mentor will be Professor Charles Forsdick of the Department of Languages, Cultures and Film, who is a specialist of the colonial history of the wider Francophone world. Dr Tierney and Professor Forsdick will work closely with Claire Tunstall, Global Head of Art, Archives and Records Management at Unilever. The University has a well-established track record for working in partnership with Unilever and this project provides an outstanding opportunity to enhance collaborations in the area of histories, languages and cultures.

Follow Jo on Twitter here.

Keywords: Research Project.