Unilever has made public a wide-ranging set of commitments and actions to help build a more equitable and inclusive society by raising living standards across its value chain, creating opportunities through inclusivity, and preparing people for the future of work.
As part of its multi-pronged initiative, Unilever announced that it wants to use the strength of its brands, and its position as the second largest advertiser in the world, to drive change. Unilever will increase the number of advertisements that include people from diverse groups, both on screen and behind the camera. The company will help tackle the prevalence of stereotypes that are often perpetuated through advertising, and promote a more inclusive representation of people.
In the big picture, Unilever’s main commitments include:
Ensuring that everyone who directly provides goods and services to the company earns at least a living wage or income, by 2030
Spending €2 billion annually with suppliers owned and managed by people from under-represented groups, by 2025
Pioneering new employment models for our employees, and equipping 10m young people with essential skills to prepare them for job opportunities, by 2030
Alan Jope, Unilever CEO, explained, “The two biggest threats that the world currently faces are climate change and social inequality. 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.
“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.”
Raising living standards
Ensuring that people earn a living wage or income is a critical step towards building a more equitable and inclusive society. It allows people to afford a decent standard of living, covering a family’s basic needs: food, water, housing, education, healthcare, transportation, clothing; and includes a provision for unexpected events. A living wage should allow workers to participate fully in their communities and help them break the cycle of poverty.
In addition, when people earn a living wage or income, there is a direct benefit to the economy, as it stimulates consumer spending, aids job creation, helps small businesses, decreases employee turnover and improves job productivity and quality--overall creating a virtuous cycle of economic growth.
Unilever’s ambition is to improve living standards for low-paid workers worldwide. The company will therefore ensure that everyone who directly provides goods and services to Unilever earns at least a living wage or income, by 2030. Unilever already pays its employees at least a living wage, and wants to secure the same for more people beyond our workforce, specifically focusing on the most vulnerable workers in manufacturing and agriculture. Unilever will work with its suppliers, other businesses, governments and NGOs--through purchasing practices, collaboration and advocacy--to create systemic change and global adoption of living wage practices.
In parallel, Unilever will also help 5 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in its retail value chain grow their business through access to skills, finance and technology, by 2025. The SMEs Unilever works with are often retailers that run independent stores, outlets and kiosks, or micro-entrepreneurs making sales in the streets or house-to-house. Unilever will provide them with access to digital tools, financial inclusion and services, and public–private models that support social entrepreneurship, to help them grow their business and their income.
Creating opportunities through inclusivity
In addition to improving living standards through economic inclusion, it is also critical that Unilever create more opportunities for people from under-represented groups--both within and outside its organization. Diversity in the workplace directly results in improved financial performance through its capacity to foster innovation, creativity and empathy.
Within its organization, Unilever will achieve an equitable culture through progressive policies and practices which eliminate bias and discrimination. Unilever has already achieved gender balance across its management globally, but there is more work to do--for women, and for other people. Through a new Equity, Diversity and Inclusion strategy, the company is removing barriers and bias in recruitment, establishing leadership accountability for supporting all its employees to excel in their roles, and aiming to achieve a workforce that is representative of the population in the countries where the company operates.
The work to drive diversity and inclusion will extend beyond Unilever’s people and operations, through a commitment to spend €2 billion annually with diverse suppliers, by 2025. These suppliers will be small and medium-sized businesses owned and managed by women, under-represented racial and ethnic groups, people with disabilities and LGBTQI+. Additionally Unilever will support these businesses with a new Supplier Development Program that will provide access to skills, financing and networking opportunities. Unilever will promote supplier diversity throughout its value chain, encouraging suppliers to have diversity amongst their respective partners.
Preparing people for the future of work
As it helps to build a more equitable and inclusive society, Unilever recognizes that changes to the world of work will affect the employment prospects of many people. Many current ways of working--roles, places, hours, skills--are rapidly evolving. Unilever has a responsibility to generate and sustain employability, by preparing its employees and other people beyond its organization for the societal and technological changes that are taking place.
The company will ensure that all employees are reskilled or upskilled to have a future-fit skillset, by 2025. While it may not be able to offer permanent, full-time, fixed jobs for life, Unilever wants to ensure that employees are equipped with the skills required to protect their livelihoods, whether within or outside of Unilever. In addition to skills development, the company will pioneer new employment models and provide its people with flexible employment options, by 2030. Partnering with unions and employee representatives, the company will develop and pilot new ways of working, to offer both security and flexibility. These include options such as flexible employment contracts with benefits such as pension plans, or offering time off work to study or re-train. This will create an environment that values openness and adaptability, elevates talent and performance, and builds resilience.
Beyond its organization, Unilever will help equip 10m young people with essential skills to prepare them for job opportunities, by 2030. By investing in skills-building and providing work experience opportunities for young people, Unilever will drive growth, and accelerate digital capabilities; building expertise and increasing productivity. The company is working with partners on LevelUp--a youth employability platform--to provide a one-stop shop for young people to discover their purpose, get access to training, volunteering and work experiences. The company will also grow its apprenticeship schemes around the world, and work with suppliers and distributors, to build vocational skills and share job opportunities, to help young people to get into work.
Gabriela Bucher, executive director, Oxfam International, commented: “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 to build a world in which everyone has the power to thrive, not just survive. We welcome Unilever’s commitments for living wages and farmer incomes in the global supply chain--an important step in the right direction--and are proud to have been a partner of Unilever as it formed this ambitious new plan. How it is implemented is also crucial. We will work alongside Unilever as it does this, helping it to deliver for under-represented groups, to accelerate their systemic changes and to shift industry practice and laws.”
Professor John Ruggie, Harvard University, former U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, member of the Unilever Sustainability Advisory Council, commented: “The right to an adequate standard of living is a fundamental human right--sadly one that many of millions of people around the world are unable to access. Decent work, enough to adequately maintain yourself and your family not only helps people escape poverty but helps economic and social development too. So I commend Unilever for its foresighted announcement today as it continues the evolution of its social ambition, founded on the respect for human rights.”