Unilever has a long history of driving social change, from improving the health and wellbeing of more than 1 billion people to enhancing the livelihoods of millions under our Sustainable Living Plan.
We are proud of these achievements. But we’re also acutely aware that we need to do more, because the social challenges people now face have grown even more severe.
In 2019, for instance, more than 630 million workers worldwide – almost one in five of all those employed – did not earn enough to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
That’s why we’re announcing a set of ambitious commitments and actions to help build a more equitable and inclusive society. These include:
“The two biggest threats that the world currently faces are climate change and social inequality,” says Unilever CEO Alan Jope. “The past year has undoubtedly widened the social divide, and decisive and collective action is needed to build a society that helps to improve livelihoods, embraces diversity, nurtures talent and offers opportunities for everyone.”
Raising living standards
Ensuring that people earn a living wage is a critical step towards building a more equitable and inclusive society. It allows people to afford a decent standard of living, covering their basic needs such as food, housing and healthcare.
We already pay our employees at least a living wage. Now we want to secure the same for more people beyond our workforce, specifically focusing on the most vulnerable workers in manufacturing and agriculture. We’ll work with our suppliers, other businesses, governments and NGOs to create system-wide change and encourage the global adoption of living wage practices.
As Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director at Oxfam International, says: “Unilever’s plan shows the kind of responsible action needed from the private sector that can have a great impact on tackling inequality, and help build a world in which everyone has the power to thrive, not just survive.”
At the same time, we will help 5 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in our retail value chain access skills, finance and technology to grow their business and their income. The SMEs we work with are often retailers who run independent stores, outlets and kiosks, or micro-entrepreneurs making sales in the streets or house-to-house.
Creating opportunities through inclusivity
Unilever has long been a passionate advocate for greater diversity and inclusion. We are proud to have achieved gender balance across our management globally, but there is more work to do – for women and also for other under-represented groups. These include people with disabilities, those from LGBTQI+ communities and from under-represented racial and ethnic groups.
We will adopt progressive policies and practices which eliminate bias and discrimination to create a culture that’s equitable for everyone. For a start, we will remove barriers and bias in recruitment and make our leaders accountable for supporting employees to excel. Beyond our own operations, by 2025, we will spend €2 billion annually with SMEs that are owned and managed by people from diverse and under-represented communities, supporting them with access to skills, financing and networking opportunities.
We will also address the lack of representation of these audiences in our advertising. In particular, we’ll use the strength of our brands to help tackle the prevalence of stereotypes that are often perpetuated through advertising and promote a more inclusive representation of people.
Preparing people for the future of work
As we help to build a more equitable and inclusive society, we recognise that changes to the world of work will affect the employment prospects of many people. Many current ways of working – roles, places, hours and skills – are rapidly evolving.
So we will ensure that all our employees have a future-fit skillset, by 2025, to help them further their careers, whether that’s within or outside Unilever. We will also pioneer new employment models by 2030 that allow people to choose how they want to work. These could include flexible contracts that retain full-time benefits, or time off to study or retrain.
Beyond our organisation, we will help equip 10 million young people with essential skills to prepare them for job opportunities, by 2030. For example, we’re working with partners on LevelUp – a youth employability platform – that will provide a one-stop shop for young people to discover their purpose and access training, volunteering and work experience opportunities.
A healthy society for a healthy business
Inclusion is at the heart of the global sustainable development agenda, with its central ambition being to ‘leave no one behind’. So building diversity and inclusion within and beyond our business supports a range of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This has been part of our DNA since Unilever was formed more than a century ago. And it’s integral to our strategy today: to contribute to a fairer and more socially inclusive world with brands that champion human rights, stand up for equality and distribute value fairly.
We’re proud of the positive impact we have had over the years, but we’ve so much more to do. Which is why we’re setting out these bold new commitments to raise the living standards of people in our business and across our value chain, especially those who are currently under-represented.
As Alan Jope says: “We believe the actions we are committing to will make Unilever a better, stronger business ready for the huge societal changes we are experiencing today – changes that will only accelerate. Without a healthy society, there cannot be a healthy business.”
Decisive and collective action is needed to build a society that promotes cohesion, embraces diversity, nurtures talent, offers opportunities for everyone and helps to improve livelihoods.Alan Jope, Unilever CEO