Reckitt Benckiser PLC (LON:RB.) has set aside more than £1bn in legal costs over the past three years, a large chunk of which is related to Oxy RB – its humidifier sanitiser (HS) which was linked to dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries in South Korea.
The consumer goods giant, which is behind brands such as Nurofen, Durex and Cillit Bang, told investors in today’s full-year results that it set aside another £431mln in exceptional legal provisions last year. That is on top of the combined £742mln it set aside in 2016 and 2017.
Reckitt refused to break down the figures but has repeatedly said the amounts “predominantly” relate to HS compensation and legal costs associated with a Department of Justice investigation in the United States.
Humidifiers soared in popularity during the 1990s as Koreans looked for ways to keep their homes and offices humid during the dry winter months.
Back in 2001, Reckitt Benckiser started selling a humidifier sanitiser (HS) called Oxy RB which was used to eliminate germs and bacteria within humidifiers.
Reckitt has insisted there were no “red flags” when it first launched Oxy RB, but it withdrew the product in 2011 after a report from the Korean Centre for Disease Control (KCDC) suggested a link between HS products and reported lung injuries.
93 deaths linked to Oxy RB
An estimated 93 people are thought to have died as a direct result of exposure to Oxy RB, while the latest figures, also released in RB’s 2018 results, show that another 405 are likely to have suffered from asthma or other conditions brought on by chemicals in the liquid.
Despite removing the steriliser from supermarket shelves, it took the FTSE 100 company five years before it formally accepted responsibility for the catastrophe.
Reckitt, as well as other firms, came under intense media criticism, with reports of children killed or severely injured by HS products fuelling the public anger.
RB’s sales in the region took a beating, too, as retailers stopped stocking its goods in protest.
Reckitt shares rose 4.9% to 6,309p on Monday, driven by better-than-expected full-year results.