From the History Archives: Colonial Pint

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The above page is from a June 1978 issue of Asiaweek magazine, a Hong Kong based weekly that was owned by Time Inc. Asia Week began circulating in 1975, and ceased publication in December 2001. This is the first post in a series of excerpts from the 1978 issues of Asiaweek.

The article is about a conflict that took place in Indonesia over a proposed change in ownership of Heineken, the Dutch brand beer.

The Dutch colonizers had ceded control of the Indonesian Islands by the Second World War and by 1945 president Sukarno became the first president of Indonesia. Soon after, a movement started, aimed at claiming ownership of everything originating in Indonesia.

“While beer-drinking Indonesians continue to quaff Bintang with gusto, mention of Heineken is likely to turn the mood sour,” reported the 1978 article.

The Dutch settlers, as reported in the article, set up Heineken breweries, in 1929. Once the settlers left, the name of the beer was changed to Bintang, but the ownership of the beer remained under control of the Dutch company with headquarters in the Netherlands. That is, the top executives in Indonesia were Dutch and the headquarters the branch reported to was in Holland. In 1978, the 1200 or so employees threatened a strike if management was not changed. A tripartite agreement was reached between the workers, the government and the company. But six months after the meeting, news arrived from the Netherlands that the “parent company had rejected an arrangement for “Indonesianisation” of the top management..” The Indonesians were in effect demanding that the breweries be run by Indonesians and that the company branch in Indonesia be handed over to the Indonesians. To leave the control of the brewery to the Dutch was to have a foreign controlled company running in the country.

Within a week of the news, the article reports, a strong reaction from Indonesia followed. “The company has violated the laws of a sovereign country,” said Santoso Donoseputro, the deputy chairman of the House Commission.

“At the week’s end, it was clear that Heineken was heading for a confrontation that could lead to a bitter hangover after 49 years of operations in Indonesia,” reads the Asiaweek article.