Lotte Mart Chain Halts Reckitt Benckiser Orders Amid Outcry

  • Company's disinfectant among other brands linked to user death
  • S. Korean President Park called for victims to be compensated

Supermarket chain Lotte Mart said it will stop ordering some Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc products, after the British maker of household cleaners was among companies probed by South Korean authorities for selling humidifier disinfectants linked to respiratory illnesses and death among users.

The Lotte Shopping Co. unit, which operates about 100 supermarkets in the country, cited public calls for boycotts as the reason for its move. Reckitt Benckiser had stopped selling the disinfectant made by its Korean Oxy unit since 2011, amid reports of fatalities among users of products made by Reckitt Benckiser and other companies, including Lotte Mart’s own in-house brand.

“We have decided to stop placing new orders for Oxy brands, and this will be effective tomorrow,” Yoon Ji Yoon, a Lotte Mart spokesman, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “We made this decision in line with ongoing boycotts among our consumers.”

Ata Safdar, head of Reckitt Benckiser Korea and Japan, on Monday apologized in a televised conference and said the company would set aside 10 billion won ($8.8 million) for compensation. Reckitt Benckiser has so far compensated 80 percent of victims who brought charges against it in Korea, U.K.-based spokeswoman Patty O’Hayer said Tuesday. She declined to comment on the boycotts.

Reckitt Benckiser shares are up 6.5 percent this year in London trading. The stock rose 0.5 percent to 6,688 pence on Tuesday, giving the company a market value of 47.1 billion pounds ($68 billion).

Lung Disease

South Korea’s President Park Geun Hye called the deaths “heartbreaking” and urged investigators to make sure victims “get their due compensation” during a cabinet meeting last week, the Korea Herald reported.

South Korea has been boosting regulation over chemical substances used in the home after a 2011 outbreak of a fatal lung disease found to be caused by toxic humidifier disinfectants. Lotte Mart Chief Executive Officer Kim Jong In also apologized last month and said the chain will compensate users affected by its in-house brand Wiselect, which it sold from November 2006 to September 2011, the Korean Herald reported April 18.

Reckitt Benckiser bought Oxy Co. for 162.5 billion won in 2001, and began marketing the Korean company’s products under the Oxy Reckitt Benckiser name. Oxy Ssak Ssak was used to clean humidifiers in South Korea until 2011, when the government banned it amid mounting fears over the dangers it posed to the public, the Telegraph reported.

Slough, England-based Reckitt Benckiser sells more than 120 household items and five medical products in South Korea, including Strepsils lozenges and Gaviscon antacid, according to its website.

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