Retailers claim green credentials with Vedan boycott

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Perhaps for the first time in the country, a product boycott has been launched by major retailers in protest against an environmental polluter unwilling to accept responsibility for its actions.

The Saigon Co.op and Big C supermarket chains announced last week they have stopped selling Vedan products, the Taiwanese MSG maker whose environmental practices have sparked public outrage.

Saigon Co.op said it began pulling Vedan's seasonings from their shelves last week. Sales will not resume until Vedan solves the pollution problem and satisfactorily compensates local farmers, it said.

Nguyen Thanh Nhan, deputy general director of Saigon Co.op, said the retailer wanted to support producers that respected the environment and oppose those causing damage to it.

French retailer Big C also confirmed it had stopped distributing the products in its outlets throughout the country last week and placed its stock in storage. It did not say when the products would be returned to the shelves again.

A source from another HCMC-based retailer Citimart said the chain stopped selling Vedan many weeks ago as consumers boycotted the polluter.

The move is a "natural reaction" by the retailers and is needed to send the message to polluters that they will not be supported, said Do Gia Phan, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Standard and Consumer Association.

However, Phan also told Thanh Nien Weekly that the reaction came a bit late, and the retailers should have behaved more responsibly like the consumers.

He said the retailers had announced their move only after consumers began boycotting Vedan products and their sales dropped.

The boycott by consumers and the retailers sends a message to businesses that they will fail if they violate the environment, he said.

From 1994 until 2008, Vedan's plant in the southern province of Dong Nai dumped 105 million liters of untreated wastewater into the Thi Vai River through a secret pipe system.

Consumers flex muscles

Phan of the Vietnam Standard and Consumer Association said the Vedan case showed local consumers were flexing their muscles without boycott movements organized by agencies or associations.

Local consumers were paying considerable attention to hygiene, quality and environmental issues as they choose producers and their products these days, he said.

Four years ago, a consumer boycott hit milk firms that were unfairly labeling their sterilized product as fresh milk. Confused and angry consumers triggered a drop in sales of 40 percent, Phan said.

Tough competition in the retail market with more foreign players was also making retailers take much more care of their consumers, including quick reactions to protect their [consumers'] rights, he added.

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