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Policing Bill: Ex-Unilever boss says protesters’ ‘fundamental rights’ threatened by Priti Patel plan

Former boss of Unilever wades into row over Government’s plans to give police new powers to clamp down on demonstrators

The former boss of Unilever has this weekend waded into a row over the Government’s plans to give the police new powers to clamp down on demonstrators. 

Paul Polman, 65, says he has ‘profound concerns’ over Home Secretary Priti Patel’s Policing Bill, adding that it ‘threatens the right to peaceful protest’. 

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

Speaking out: Paul Polman says he has ‘profound concerns’ over Home Secretary Priti Patel’s Policing Bill, adding that it ‘threatens the right to peaceful protest’

The Dutch industrialist was at the helm of the FTSE consumer goods giant for a decade, during which time it gained a reputation as one of the most woke businesses in Britain.

His intervention into UK politics is highly unusual for a former captain of industry. It came just days after Unilever was savaged by leading shareholder Terry Smith for putting wokery ahead of profits. Deborah Meaden, the Dragons’ Den star and entrepreneur, is also campaigning against the proposed clampdown, 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. 

Its opponents include the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Muslim Council of Britain, the Church of England and other faith leaders who have urged the Government to ‘think again’. Faith leaders argue the bill could criminalise a range of religious activities including street preaching and chanting. 

‘Kill the Bill’ demonstrations are planned across Britain today ahead of the vote in the Lords. A letter signed by Polman, Meaden and 200 business owners calls on the Lords to amend the bill, removing any ‘anti-protest’ provisions. 

Polman, who earned a total of around £70m in his time at the head of Unilever, said: ‘No enlightened business should support disproportionate infringements on this right. Would Unilever have, on its own, woken up to the plastics crisis, if our consumers and employees had not demanded we take notice? The honest answer is no, we would not. 

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

Polman and Meaden are opposing the law change which would set start and finish times for protests, as well as noise limits. It also threatens up to 10 years in jail for damage to memorials. 

Critics say the bill is an attack on the right to protest and that it effectively criminalises any demonstration that police deem to be causing disruption. Campaigners also argue it would give the police the power to stop and search anybody they thought was attending a protest. Meaden argued the right to protest is an ‘essential part’ of business and that it spurs innovation. The Government argues the bill will uphold the right to peaceful protest while giving police the power to stop disruption and violence. 

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

And its refusal to sell its wares in the ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory’ was cited by Terry Smith as one instance of ‘ludicrous’ woke behaviour.