Paul Pol­man

Rotman Management Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - By Karen Christensen

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.

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