Royal African Society publishes report by Dr Jo Tierney into Lever Brothers DCR & Solomon Island Plantations

Posted on: 16 June 2022 by Nick Jones in 2022 Posts

Dr Jo Tierney (r) & Claire Tunstall

Dr Jo Tierney, a post-doctoral research associate at the School of Histories, Languages and Cultures, has been working with Unilever to explore the business practices of Lever Brothers from 1900-1930 in the Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) and the Solomon Islands. Her scoping report has now been published by the Royal African Society.

The Royal African Society (RAS) has been commissioned by Unilever to put together an Independent Research Panel (IRP) with the necessary expertise and experience from their extensive network to support on various strands of research work related to William Lever and the Lever brothers in plantations in the Belgian Congo and Solomon Islands pre-WWII.

As part of this, Unilever commissioned a 4-month scoping survey to understand the records, collections and research potential relating to William Lever and Lever Brothers Plantations in the DRC & Solomon Islands. Dr Tierney’s work is the result of this commission.

Read more about the RSA project and download Dr Tierney’s scoping survey here.

Working with Claire Tunstall, Global Head of Art, Archives and Records Management at Unilever, Jo has been investigating what records, collections and publications exist that will help 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.

Jo and Claire talk about the Lever Brothers project in this short video.

Of the project, Jo Tierney said: ‘It was very important to us that this research was made accessible to a wide audience. We hope that the publication of the report through our partners at RAS will allow communities in Liverpool and beyond to engage with the history of the Lever Brothers plantations. The publication of this report also marks a significant milestone in the development of this research and we look forward to continuing to work with Unilever and the other partners on the project.’ 

Professor Charles Forsdick, a specialist in the colonial history of the wider Francophone world and Jo’s mentor on this project said: ‘The experience of working with Unilever – from the perspective of the Arts and Humanities – has been an extremely positive one. Understanding the role for Lever Brothers of its plantations in the Belgian Congo and the Solomon Islands has allowed us to collaborate closely with Claire Tunstall and colleagues in Unilever Art, Archives and Records Management, drawing on Liverpool’s institutional expertise in the area of the Faculty theme of slavery and unfree labour.

‘Jo’s research has implications for a number of stakeholders – including the company and the University of Liverpool itself – relating to an area of urgent public concern: how we acknowledge the colonial past and come to terms with its legacies in the present. We will explore how the report’s challenging findings and recommendations can inform the partnership as it continues to develop.’ 

Find out more about this, and other partnership projects at the University of Liverpool here.

Keywords: Unilever, Partnerships.