Soap powder row still bubbling: P&G renews criticism of Unilever detergent

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The Independent Online
PROCTER & Gamble, the consumer products group, stepped up the pressure on Unilever with renewed claims that detergents made by its Anglo-Dutch rival damage clothes.

Unilever said it was 'fine tuning' the product after admitting an ingredient could harm material under extreme laboratory conditions, but P&G said yesterday it did not go far enough and the ingredient should be removed.

The claims follow Friday's decision by Unilever to drop a court case against P&G for making 'untruthful and misleading' comments about its products. Unilever's new generation of detergents contain a manganese- based compound designed to accelerate washing power.

John Pepper, president of P&G, said: 'Simply lowering the level of the accelerator is no guarantee the problem will be solved.' He warned consumers not to buy the product until it was proved safe for use.

The two companies are fierce rivals in the pounds 6bn European detergents market. The products at the centre of the dispute include Persil Power in the UK, and have been launched in 10 European countries with marketing costs totalling tens of millions of pounds.

P&G yesterday published evidence from the Shirley Technology Centre, near Manchester, which concluded that Persil Power caused 'more rapid fabric deterioration than Ariel Ultra', a P&G product. Other P&G tests came to similar conclusions. Mr Pepper said: 'The tests showed that even at one-tenth of the current level, there is still manganese build-up on fabrics, it still remains active, and there is still abnormal wear and tear.'

A Unilever spokesman said 'fine tuning' was a normal process and that in two years of field testing the product no evidence of clothes damage had been found.