Describe how some of the world’s wickedest problems touch Unilever’s brands.
We operate in 190 countries, so our supply chain touches the two billion people who use our products every day — seven out of ten households, globally. On a macro level, some of the biggest challenges we face are poverty eradication, unsustainable consumption patterns and increasingly, political and social instability. Of course, these things are linked to issues like food security, climate change and high levels of unemployment, all of which influence us directly. If a society isn’t functioning well, we cannot service it effectively.
Our brands are the main tools through which we deal with these issues, and they provide us with enormous opportunities. For example, many parts of the world are — or will soon be — enormously water-stressed. The prognosis for Unilever is that we will not be able to develop our business in many parts of India because there will not be enough safe water for people to use to brush their teeth and wash their hair — and all the other things they do with our products. To tackle this issue, we created a product called Pureit for the Indian market. It is the lowest-cost and most efficient water purification system in the world, and it is one of our fastest-growing products.
Sanitation is a huge issue. Due to infectious diseases, one out of 20 children born in the world today won’t make it past the age of five. We’ve been tackling this issue via Lifebuoy soap, with a widespread hand-washing campaign that helps children be healthy. Open defecation is another major issue: 2.4 billion people do not have access to proper plumbing. To tackle this, we have built 400,000 toilets and launched the Domestos toilet cleaning system. All of a sudden, we’re not just selling soap or toilet cleanser, we’re tackling wider problems. Elsewhere, issues of food security and sustainable agriculture are directly linked to our Knorr brand, which we use to develop jobs for smallholder farmers.