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Thursday, 04 June 2020
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Markets & companies

Interview: "This is our social responsibility"

Monday, 6 April 2020

In view of the Corona pandemic, Remmers has converted a production line and has already supplied rescue services and hospitals with 15,000 litres of disinfectant. We spoke to Jürgen Jahn, head of personnel management, about bureaucratic hurdles and grateful recipients.

The demand for disinfectants has increased immensely due to the corona pandemic. Source: blackday - adobe.stock.com

The demand for disinfectants has increased immensely due to the corona pandemic. Source: blackday - adobe.stock.com

How did it come about that Remmers provided capacities for the production of disinfectants at such short notice?

Jürgen Jahn: At the beginning of February we started to raise our internal hygiene standards. Our stocks were no longer sufficient. Therefore, together with a local pharmacy, we produced disinfectants for our internal needs. At the beginning, this was 600 litres. Then the German Red Cross called me to ask if we could help them out with disinfectants because they only had reserve stocks for their ambulances. We then helped them out of our stocks. After we had done that, this information went to the crisis management team of the region and all the rescue services, and also the city of Oldenburg contacted me. It all happened in a flash. We then discovered that the demand was so high that we looked to see if we could produce the means ourselves.

How long have you been producing disinfectants and on what scale?

Jürgen Jahn_Remmers

Jürgen Jahn: We had relatively large stocks of ethanol and isopropanol and started producing in the last week of February in consultation with the city of Oldenburg, which had an enormous demand for hospitals and emergency services.

To date we have produced about 15,000 litres. Then our tanks were empty. And now we are fighting for supplies. These are battles against windmills, I can tell you! Especially when it comes to bureaucracy. Up to now, we have filled in five-litre containers, the law forbids the rescue service to transfer a five-litre canister into a one-litre canister, only pharmacists or manufacturers are allowed to do that. You have to imagine that. 

Now we get ethanol, that is, alcohol, and we sell the disinfectants for EUR 10, which is the cost price. Then we should pay EUR 13 per litre of ethanol per customs duty, because you can produce alcoholic drinks with it and it is therefore subject to alcohol tax. We cannot produce any alcohol at all, we do not have the possibility or the intention of distilling hard liquor here.

That cost us a week of discussions. That is really appalling. On the other hand, you have a rescue organisation that only has reserve stocks and can only get along a few days.

You're handing over the funds at cost price, what are your motives? 

Jürgen Jahn: We and our shareholders see this as our social responsibility, especially for our region. At the moment we deliver from Osnabrück to Wilhelmshaven. This concerns our emergency services, our hospitals, our police force, which we support. We do not want to make a profit with this, we want to help. If we could produce more, we would also give more. But it would go faster if we distributed the disinfectants directly in the region. The demand is so great that everything we produce is gone in no time.

Where are the disinfectants used?

Jürgen Jahn: In addition to hospitals and rescue services, also in the police, city administration and nursing homes. But the large quantities really end up with the emergency services. Unfortunately, we cannot sell it to private individuals, industry or customers.

How quickly could you change your production processes for this and how challenging was that?

Jürgen Jahn: We had to convert an entire filling line and first clean it completely, which is relatively elaborate. Then we had to recompose the formulation. There is an official and freely available WHO reception for the disinfectant, which specifies this exactly. One line then produces disinfectant completely. Then follows the filling. The 5-litre containers are not our standard containers either, but they are the most reasonable for the emergency services.

Will your usual production processes for building protection products and wood preservatives be affected by this?

Jürgen Jahn: We turned off a paint for this and then made up for the time lost through cleaning by working extra shifts on Saturdays. The agent must be allowed to react for 72 hours. Therefore it was good that we did it at the weekend, so we could distribute it the following week. We normally also produce disinfectants in small quantities for building restoration, but of course we don't produce agents for skin disinfection.

Where do you produce, and did you have to put on extra shifts and redeploy personnel for the production of disinfectants?

Jürgen Jahn: We produce at our main plant in Löningen. The people have all volunteered and are working extra shifts. There was no discussion at all.

How is this action received by the employees and the recipients?

Jürgen Jahn: I think our employees are quite proud that they can help here. They know about social responsibility. Regarding the recipients, it is simply overwhelming. We could sell ten times more of what we produce. The people are all very grateful. It makes you a little proud when you can help. On the other hand, it is also frightening how bad preparations for this situation were.

We are now trying to get ethanol from all sources, including alcohol and beverage producers. We continue to produce at cost price and 100 percent for the rescue services. They live from hand to mouth at the moment.

 The interview was conducted by Kirsten Wrede.

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