For Danish Firms, Boycott in Mideast a ‘Nightmare’
Millions of Dollars in Sales Are Lost as Markets That Were Built Over Decades Disappear in Days
By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 11, 2006; A12
COPENHAGEN, Feb. 10 — The Arla Foods plant in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which produces cheese and flavored yogurt drinks, sits idle and the company’s 800 employees in the country have been sent home because of a Middle East boycott of Danish goods, following a Danish newspaper’s publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.
“It took us 40 years to build up our business in the Middle East, and five days to bring it to a total stop,” said Astrid Nielsen, spokeswoman for the Danish company here. She said suspending operations at the Riyadh plant, the company’s regional base, and a near-total boycott of the company’s products have cost Arla about $1.7 million a day since Jan. 28.
The boycott of Danish goods, propelled by Muslim leaders and imams preaching in mosques, has brought exports of Danish products to the Middle East and North Africa to a virtual standstill. It has scuttled a flow of goods to the region that was worth about $1 billion in the first 10 months of 2005, according to government statistics.
The boycott has been less visible than the angry mobs around the world burning Danish flags, torching embassies and carrying placards calling for “Danish blood.” But it has been just as unnerving for Danish business leaders, who have spent decades expanding their sales of food, pharmaceuticals, industrial equipment and other products into the Middle Eastern market.