Police law: Ex-Unilever boss says protesters’ ‘fundamental rights’ are threatened by Priti Patel’s plan

Former Unilever boss argues over government plans to give police new powers to fight protesters



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The former Unilever boss has argued this weekend over the government’s plans to give the police new powers to fight protesters.

Paul Polman, 65, says he has “deep concern” about Interior Minister Priti Patel’s police law, adding that it “threatens the right to peaceful protest”.

He called on colleagues in a House of Lords vote on Monday to throw out parts of the bill, which he says curtails people’s “most fundamental rights” to stand up for their beliefs.

Speaking: Paul Polman says he has 'deep concern' about Interior Minister Priti Patel's police law, adding that it 'threatens the right to peaceful protest'

Speaking: Paul Polman says he has ‘deep concern’ about Interior Minister Priti Patel’s police law, adding that it ‘threatens the right to peaceful protest’

The Dutch industrialist spent ten years at the helm of the FTSE consumer goods giant, during which time it acquired a reputation as one of the most alert companies in Britain.

His intervention in British politics is highly unusual for a former captain of industry. It came just days after Unilever was mobbed by leading shareholder Terry Smith for putting wakery above profit. Deborah Meaden, the star and entrepreneur of Dragons’ Den, is also campaigning against the proposed measures, claiming it is “bad for business.”

The bill was prompted by public frustration at the toppling of statues and disruptive protests by Insulate Britain, BLM and other groups.

His opponents include the Board of Deputies of British Jewish, Muslim Council of Britain, the Church of England and other religious leaders who have urged the government to “think again.” Faith leaders argue that the bill could criminalize a range of religious activities, including street preaching and singing.

‘Kill the Bill’ demonstrations are planned across Britain today in the run-up to the Lords vote. A letter signed by Polman, Meaden and 200 entrepreneurs calls on the Lords to amend the bill and remove all ‘anti-protest’ provisions.

Polman, who made a total of around £70 million during his time at the head of Unilever, said: ‘No enlightened company should support disproportionate infringements of this right. Would Unilever have woken up to the plastic crisis on its own if our consumers and employees hadn’t demanded that we take note? The honest answer is no, we wouldn’t.

‘Companies benefit from channels through which civil society can make itself heard.’

Polman and Meaden oppose the law change that would determine start and end times for protests, as well as noise limits. It also threatens up to 10 years in prison for damage to memorials.

Critics say the bill is an attack on the right to protest and effectively criminalizes any demonstration that police believe causes disturbance. Campaigners also claim it would give police the power to stop and search anyone they thought was attending a protest. Meaden argued that the right to protest is an “essential part” of business and that it stimulates innovation. The government says the bill will uphold the right to peaceful protest and give the police the power to stop disturbance and violence.

The protest letter is not signed by Unilever. However, it is endorsed by one of the most famous brands, Ben & Jerry’s. The ice maker has already attacked Patel on Twitter in 2020 over migrant boats crossing the Channel.

And the refusal to sell his wares in the “occupied Palestinian territories” was cited by Terry Smith as an example of “ridiculous” wakefulness.

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