Giant steps to assist Durban communities
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...