Gi­ant steps to as­sist Dur­ban com­mu­ni­ties

The Mercury - - NEWS - Nosipho Mn­goma

ONE of the old­est com­pa­nies in Dur­ban has been praised by the lo­cal and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments for its work in tack­ling un­em­ploy­ment and its care for so­ci­ety and the en­vi­ron­ment.

Speak­ing at a func­tion held at Unilever of­fices in La Lucia re­cently, So­cial De­vel­op­ment MEC Weziwe Thusi thanked and con­grat­u­lated the com­pany for “the gi­ant steps you’ve taken in im­prov­ing the lives of both your em­ploy­ees and the un­em­ployed young peo­ple of our com­mu­ni­ties, and also tak­ing care of our en­vi­ron­ment”.

She added that it was im­por­tant for gov­ern­ment and busi­ness to team up to ad­dress the chal­lenges faced by South Africa, par­tic­u­larly poverty, un­em­ploy­ment and in­equal­ity.

The event was to re­flect on the progress of the com­pany’s Sus­tain­able Liv­ing Plan (USLP), which is aimed at job cre­ation, SMME de­vel­op­ment and the pro­mo­tion of hy­giene and san­i­ta­tion.

eThek­wini Mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s Eric Apel­gren later praised the com­pany for be­ing “a good cor­po­rate cit­i­zen”, re­mark­ing that, as it was es­tab­lished in the Port of Dur­ban 106 years ago, it was as old as the city hall. Its first prod­uct was the Sun­light soap green bar, which has be­come leg­endary in South Africa, as a trusty clean-all, wash-all, cure-all sta­ple in many homes.

“Our founders had the fun­da­men­tal be­lief that by cre­at­ing a soap for peo­ple to wash their hands for bet­ter hy­giene, we could stop the cholera out­break. Al­ready at that time, that sort of en­gage­ment for a bet­ter liveli­hood was em­bed­ded into Unilever, even more so to­day, when all the em­ploy­ees are com­mit­ted to sus­tain­able liv­ing,” said Unilever chief ex­ec­u­tive Luc-Olivier Mar­quet.

Shobna Per­sadh, cor­po­rate af­fairs and sus­tain­able busi­ness di­rec­tor, said the USLP was launched glob­ally seven years ago.

“It’s our blueprint on how to grow our busi­ness, while at the same time re­duc­ing our en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact, and have a pos­i­tive so­cial im­pact.

“It is our blueprint to prove to the world that a cor­po­rate can cre­ate value with hu­man val­ues at its core, that pro­mot­ing eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment through re­spon­si­ble busi­ness mod­els is the best way to bring peo­ple out of poverty,” said Per­sadh.

Mar­quet said the com­pany em­ployed more than 3000 peo­ple di­rectly and tens of thou­sands of peo­ple in­di­rectly. One of the lat­ter is Phumzile Zulu, an Ola ice cream ven­dor. Be­fore join­ing the brand five years ago, she sold ice cream on the beach­front for al­most two decades.

“I bought ice cream at re­tail stores, so my profit was min­i­mal. I used a cooler box with ice to carry the ice cream up and down all day. If the ice melted be­fore my stock was fin­ished, it meant the end of trad­ing for that day and a loss in melted stock.”

Shaa­dia Vawda, gen­eral man­ager for ice cream, said ven­dors like Zulu were pro­vided with mini-freez­ers on bi­cy­cles and no longer had to lug cooler boxes around all day. They also had some­where to store their un­sold stock overnight.

“We pay a daily rate, plus com­mis­sion on ice cream sold. We also sub­sidise salaries in win­ter when sales are not great,” she said.

With Zulu hav­ing a much more sta­ble and bet­ter in­come on the Ola Ven­dor Pro­gramme, she said she had been able to put two of her three chil­dren through pri­vate FET col­leges, giv­ing them a start at a fu­ture she had never had.

“Our coun­try has a high un­em­ploy­ment rate. Ice cream is about joy. How can you cre­ate joy if you can’t cre­ate em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially for women?” Vawda asked.

Since the pro­gramme started in 2013, it has em­ployed about 2 200 peo­ple, 733 of whom are in KZN.

Unilever also plans to cre­ate 350 more jobs in the next six months, through the Town­ship Job Cre­ation De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme. Ste­fan Cloete, vice-pres­i­dent for cus­tomer de­vel­op­ment, said this was a fi­nan­cially vi­able model to cre­ate up­lift­ment in town­ships. “We are cre­at­ing em­ploy­ment for reps who en­gage with spaza store own­ers and help them un­der­stand Unilever prod­ucts.

“The real up­side of this pro­gramme is what the sales al­low us to do in the rev­enue it gen­er­ates. It helps us have a pos­i­tive im­pact in the town­ship it­self by get­ting much closer to the con­sumers, shop­pers, traders and the peo­ple liv­ing in the town­ships. The rev­enue it gen­er­ates through sales goes back to the com­mu­nity through pay­ing the reps.”

Sales rep Ayanda Ngubane, 23, ser­vices parts of KwaMashu. She ap­plied to join the pro­gramme af­ter she had been un­em­ployed for some time, de­spite hav­ing an IT qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

“I am so grate­ful for this job, not just be­cause it pays me, but be­cause Unilever has helped me dis­cover my pas­sion for sales. I know I am go­ing to go far in this ca­reer, be­cause I am de­ter­mined and I get a lot of sup­port from my line man­ager, Good­man Khanye, and Unilever. They have given me skills no one can take from me,” said Ngubane.

For Duduzile Cele, the owner of Vukuzame Con­ve­nience Store in KwaMashu, Ayanda’s skills and the town­ship spaza de­vel­op­ment project have made or­der­ing and re­ceiv­ing stock easy. “I don’t have to deal with not find­ing prod­ucts at cer­tain stores,” she said. “Hav­ing to buy re­tail meant lower prof­its and prob­lems with trans­port to bring goods back to the spaza. I now save petrol and time, and am able to make a big­ger profit.”

While this con­trib­uted in a small way to de­creas­ing fuel emis­sions, as part of the USLP, Unilever aims to re­duce its en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact from its fac­to­ries and sup­ply chain by 50% and im­prove the health and san­i­ta­tion of more than one bil­lion peo­ple in the world.

“We are well on track at 84% of our tar­get, with two years still re­main­ing. Our brands with pur­pose are grow­ing twice as fast as other prod­ucts and that, for us, is true sus­tain­abil­ity,” said Mar­quet.

He be­lieves this shows other cor­po­rates that a busi­ness model where they can grow the com­pany and grow prof­itabil­ity, while hav­ing a pos­i­tive im­pact on the com­mu­nity, does ex­ist.

“We have a duty to leave the planet in good con­di­tion for gen­er­a­tions to come. Ac­tion is needed ur­gently,” he said.

Among the projects ad­dress­ing these three chal­lenges is a part­ner­ship with Hil­ton-based NGO Wild­lands Con­ser­va­tion Trust. Through the Green­preneurs pro­gramme, the com­pany pays un­em­ployed peo­ple for saplings.

Unilever’s sus­tain­abil­ity part­ner­ships man­ager, Pre­ola Adam, said that, so far, they had planted 840000 trees and in Septem­ber they would plant the mil­lionth tree.

More than 1 000 “wasteprenuers” are also em­pow­ered through this pro­gramme with the rub­bish that they col­lect.

Unilever have re­cy­cled the waste into 1000 school desks and would make 1 000 more this year, to help ad­dress the short­age of three mil­lion school desks in the coun­try.

Adam added that their work in schools in­cludes their Na­tional School Hy­giene and San­i­ta­tion Pro­gramme: “Last year we en­tered into a five-year part­ner­ship with the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion to de­liver this pro­gramme for five years. It reaches 15000 schools across the coun­try.”

Thandim­fundo Pri­mary School in KwaMashu has par­tic­i­pated, with pupils re­ceiv­ing tooth­brushes, tooth­paste, soap and bleach. They are taught how to wash their hands prop­erly with soap, oral care and san­i­ta­tion habits.

Adam said the pro­gramme was part of the school cur­ricu­lum and would start this year on May 28.

So­cial De­vel­op­ment MEC Weziwe Thusi with Unilever chief ex­ec­u­tive Luc-Olivier Mar­quet, area man­ager Good­man Khanye and vice-pres­i­dent for cus­tomer de­vel­op­ment Ste­fan Cloete, wit­ness the fruits of their spaza de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme, through which...

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