As one of the world leaders in consumer products Unilever constantly finds itself in the focus of potential critics and pressure groups, among them journalists, environmentalists, consumer protection groups or consumer representatives1.
As a response to criticism and to double its growth it launched “The Sustainable Living Plan” (hereafter SusLivPlan) in November 2010. Now, one year after the launch, it is worth to have a look at its success, its overall implementation and critically evaluate in how far Unilever applies to common CSR theories. Strategy
The SusLivPlan is Unilever’s business plan for one decade. It attempts to include CSR throughout its core business taking in its products, departments, consumers, suppliers and local communities.
The emerging markets offer the greatest possibilities for Unilever to increase its turnover.3 Consumers here are also more likely to buy brands that support good causes. For instance, 81% of the Brazilians, 78% of the Chinese and Mexicans as well as 77% of the Indians would trust a brand that is ethically and socially responsible. The global average still lies at 65%.4
Investing in ethically responsible products gives people the outright feeling of doing something good for the world.
“A growing number are choosing to buy brands such as Rainforest Alliance Certified Lipton tea, Ben & Jerry’s Fairtrade ice cream and “small & mighty” concentrated laundry detergents.”
The overall awareness of society towards CSR evidently has risen and it holds commercial value.6 CSR activities hold many advantages.
ü Journalists have something positive to report to their readership ü Critiques can be outweighed
ü Current employees like their employer and become loyal ambassadors ü Consumers tend to buy more and build long-term relationships ü Potential consumers and employees become attracted
ü Shareholders and investors are more likely to invest
ü Suppliers establish stronger relationships
ü Government(s)/regulators become/s more supportive
„We are working with one of the world’s leading suppliers of consumer goods, Unilever, to develop a business model that will benefit small scale farmers. With technical support from Oxfam and Unilever, onion producers will be able to sell their products in international markets. As a cooperative, these farmers will able to improve their production, processing, and marketing. “
The Unilever project would change my life. Now we don’t earn enough [selling in local and national markets]. But if we sell to Unilever we will be able to develop our business.
Mirdamed Bagirov, Khanarab village, onion farmer Another voice on Unilever’s and Oxfam’s partnership:
“Despite the often adversarial relationship between corporations and NGOs, the two organizations shared a common interest that formed the basis for their collaboration, with the goal of examining the role of business in poverty reduction, specifically by studying Unilever’s operations in Indonesia.“25
Shakti, Unilever’s door-to-door selling operation in India, provides work to large numbers of people in poor rural communities. Unilever will increase the number of Shakti entrepreneurs that they recruit, train and employ from 45 000 in 2010 to 75 000 in 2015.
They operate similar schemes in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Vietnam which we are also committed to expanding.
The concept of a ‘Shakti entrepreneur’: individuals from rural areas who sell Unilever products directly to homes and retailers in their villages.