Restructuring at Anglo-Dutch food and consumer products company Unilever has led to the decision to sell off all its Malaysian oil palm estates, which total 21,700ha.

Private bidding for the plantations, which will be expected to fetch over RM500m (US$132m), begins next week. Interested companies may include PPB Oil Palms, Golden Hope Plantations and Sime Darby.

Unilever, whose brands include Lipton Tea, Dove soap and shampoo, Wall's ice cream and Knorr, uses refined palm oil in the manufacture of some of its household products. Having started using oil palm plantations in Malaysia in the 1950s, Unilever currently employs one thousand people on its Malaysian plantations. The company also owns oil palm plantations in Africa.

Unilever is currently undergoing a major restructuring, announced in February 2000, aimed at increasing sales and achieving higher profit margins. A major part of this reorganisation includes narrowing the range of products it sells from twelve hundred to just four hundred so-called 'power brands' and getting rid of all non-core businesses. The company has recently sold off the Unimills edible oils refinery and Loders Croklaan, its oils and fats division, reported the Business Times.

Formed in 1930, with the merger of Dutch company Margarine Unie and British soap maker Lever Brothers, Unilever employed a total of 295,000 workers worldwide in 2000.

Last year Unilever reported sales of US$44.81bn and made a profit of US$1.04bn.