UK companies sell toxic soap to African women

UK companies sell toxic soap to African women


The Independent

By Steve Connor, Science Editor


11 May 2000


Britain is at the centre of an international trade in dangerously

toxic soap which is sold in Africa to lighten the skin of black

people despite it being banned in Europe.


A report on the trade by the Danish Ministry of the Environment

and Energy blames Britain for manufacturing the soap

containing high levels of mercury.


The Danish scientists say that the soap is linked with serious

medical disorders as well as environmental pollution.


The findings have been passed to Michael Meacher, the

Environment minister, asking him to support the introduction of

a Europe-wide ban on the production of mercury soap. The

sale of the product is already banned in Europe.


The report says the soaps and creams may contain about 1

per cent mercury, a level which poses a serious health hazard,

according to the scientists. Use of the soap may cause

diseases connected with the nervous system, the kidneys and

the skin.


"These products are claimed to be antiseptic, but the real

purpose of using them is to obtain paler skin and hair, the

report says.


The report's authors found the soap on widespread sale in

Tanzania and a chemical analysis showed it contained

enough mercury to be potentially toxic to people and wildlife.


The report adds: "These products are used to bleach dark hair

and dark skin. The soaps and creams are mainly

manufactured in countries within the EC, especially the United



The soap is smuggled into many African countries that have

officially banned its importation. The most effective way of

dealing with the problem is to ban the soap's manufacture in

its country of origin, the report says.


However, it continues: "In spite of these restrictions, soap and

cream containing mercury is manufactured in European

countries, mainly in the UK, and sold as antiseptic soap to

Third World countries.


"Despite the fact that the manufacture of mercury-containing

products is not illegal in the EC, we find it immoral that

companies within the EC exploit Third World countries by

producing and exporting these products, which pose serious

health hazards to mankind."


Waste water containing mercury from the soap is washed into

rivers where bacteria convert the metal into an even more toxic

form, methylmercury. This can be absorbed by fish and also

pose a threat to humans through the food chain.


The Danish scientists say ingestion of mercury can cause

nervous disorders, kidney disease, dermatitis and can

damage verbal intelligence.


Peter Appel, a senior scientist at the Geological Survey of

Denmark and one of the report's authors, has identified three

firms in Britain Rico Skin Care Ltd, Jambo UK, and Anglo

Fabrics (Bolton) Ltd that allegedly make soap containing

significant quantities of mercury, according to product labels.


Mushtaq Munshi, managing director of Anglo Fabrics (Bolton)

Ltd, based in Chorley, Lancashire, said the company stopped

making the soap in Britain about 15 years ago.


Mr Munshi said: "We hold the registration for clients in Africa.

They make it in the Far East. We've asked them to take our

name off, but there is a lot of counterfeiting going on."


A spokesman for Jambo UK based in Greenford, west

London, said the company is a wholesaler for cosmetics and

toiletries but it does not sell anything in Africa.


Fuad Chatoo, managing director of Rico Skin Care, said his

firm sells soap containing mercury in African countries where it

is allowed. However, he said Rico does not manufacture the

soap in Britain.