Lethal goods find a global market

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The Independent Online

Soaps containing mercury are the latest in a long line of products exported by Britain and its EU partners that critics say highlight the unacceptable face of international trade.

From baby milk to arms, Western companies export products and use marketing methods that would be unacceptable in domestic markets.

The Independent revealed at the end of last year that leg-irons available in the United States were legally exported as oversized handcuffs and then adapted. The leg-irons, stamped "Made in England", were from Hiatt of Birmingham. A Briton who says he was held in Hiatt leg-irons in a Saudi jail has said he saw them used to hang prisoners upside down while they were beaten.

In the field of military equipment, British-owned firms have been involved in a number of deals that have raised concern among organisations such as Amnesty International. They include the sale to Indonesia of Hawk jets - manufactured by British Aerospace - and sale of spares for the same aircraft to Zimbabwe. Human rights activists claimed Indonesia could use the aircraft against civilians in East Timor and Zimbabwe might deploy the aircraft in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The marketing methods of cigarette companies have also attracted criticism. BAT (formerly British and American Tobacco) was heavily criticised for its marketing in Sri Lanka which included sponsoring a "healthy child contest".

Even products such as infant-formula milk can create concern. Nestlé faced calls for a boycott of its products afterit was accused of violating a World Health Organisation code on marketing.