Unilever sets out plans to help build a more equitable and inclusive society

Unilever has announced a wide-ranging set of commitments and actions to help build a more equitable and inclusive society by raising living standards across its value chain, creating opportunities through inclusivity, and preparing people for the future of work.

Unilever’s main commitments include: Ensuring that everyone who directly provides goods and services to the company earns at least a living wage or income, by 2030, spending €2 billion annually with suppliers owned and managed by people from under-represented groups, by 2025 pioneering new employment models for our employees and equipping ten million young people with essential skills to prepare them for job opportunities, by 2030.

Unilever’s CHRO, Leena Nair, told theHRDIRECTOR: “Without question, two very big threats that the world currently faces is social inequality and climate change. The pandemic has of course impacted in so many different ways and, none more-so, than causing a widening of the social divide. We believe it’s time to take decisive and collective action, with the objective of building a society that is motivated to improve lives and livelihoods, that embraces diversity, nurtures talent and offers opportunities for everyone. Concurrently, we believe the actions we are committing to will make Unilever a better, stronger business and ready for the huge societal changes we are experiencing today, changes that will only accelerate. Without a healthy society, there cannot be a healthy business.”

One of the key aspects of Unilever’s ambitions is to raise living standards and ensure that people earn a living wage or income, which is a critical step towards building a more equitable and inclusive society. People should be able to afford a decent standard of living, covering a family’s basic needs: food, water, housing, education, healthcare, transportation, clothing and have provision for unexpected events. It speaks to the very crux of what a living wage should represent, to allow workers to participate fully in their communities and help them break the cycle of poverty. In addition, when people earn a living wage or income, there is a direct benefit to the economy, as it stimulates consumer spending, aids job creation, helps small businesses, decreases employee turnover and improves job productivity and quality – overall creating a virtuous cycle of economic growth.

Leena Nair added: “Our ambition is to improve living standards for low-paid workers worldwide. We will therefore ensure that everyone who directly provides goods and services to Unilever earns at least a living wage or income, by 2030. We already pay our employees at least a living wage, and we want to secure the same for more people beyond our workforce, specifically focusing on the most vulnerable workers in manufacturing and agriculture. We will work with our suppliers, other businesses, governments and NGOs – through purchasing practices, collaboration and advocacy – to create systemic change and global adoption of living wage practices. In parallel, we will also help five million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in our retail value chain grow their business through access to skills, finance and technology, by 2025. The SMEs we work with are often retailers who run independent stores, outlets and kiosks, or micro-entrepreneurs making sales in the streets or house-to-house. We will provide them with access to digital tools, financial inclusion and services, and public–private models that support social entrepreneurship, to help them grow their business and their income. Creating opportunities through inclusivity In addition to improving living standards through economic inclusion, it is also critical that we create more opportunities for people from under-represented groups – both within and outside our organisation. Diversity in the workplace directly results in improved financial performance through its capacity to foster innovation, creativity and empathy. Within our organisation, we will achieve an equitable culture through progressive policies and practices which eliminate bias and discrimination. We are proud to have achieved already gender balance across our management globally, but there is more work to do – for women and for other people.”

Through a new Equity, Diversity and Inclusion strategy, Unilever is aiming to remove barriers and bias in recruitment, establishing leadership accountability for supporting all employees to excel in their roles and aiming to achieve a workforce that is representative of the population in the countries where we operate. The organisation’s work to drive diversity and inclusion is intended to extend beyond its people and operations, with a commitment to spend €2 billion annually with diverse suppliers, by 2025. These suppliers will be small and medium-sized businesses owned and managed by women, under-represented racial and ethnic groups, people with disabilities and LGBTQI+. In addition to the spend, Unilever pledges to support these businesses with a new Supplier Development Programme that will provide access to skills, financing and networking opportunities.

Leena Nair concluded: “We will promote supplier diversity throughout our value chain, encouraging our suppliers to have diversity amongst their respective partners. We also want to use the strength of our brands, and our position as the second largest advertiser in the world, to drive change. We will increase the number of advertisements that include people from diverse groups, both on screen and behind the camera. We will help tackle the prevalence of stereotypes that are often perpetuated through advertising and promote a more inclusive representation of people. Preparing people for the future of work as we help to build a more equitable and inclusive society, we recognise that changes to the world of work will affect the employment prospects of many people. Many current ways of working – roles, places, hours, skills – are rapidly evolving. We have a responsibility to generate and sustain employability, by preparing our employees and other people beyond our organisation for the societal and technological changes that are taking place.

We will ensure that all employees are reskilled or upskilled to have a future-fit skillset, by 2025. While we may not be able to offer permanent, full-time, fixed jobs for life, we want to ensure that our employees are equipped with the skills required to protect their livelihoods, whether within or outside of Unilever. In addition to skills development, we will pioneer new employment models and provide our people with flexible employment options, by 2030. Partnering with our unions and employee representatives, we will develop and pilot new ways of working, to offer both security and flexibility. These include options such as flexible employment contracts with benefits such as pension plans or offering time off work to study or re-train. This will create an environment that values openness and adaptability, elevates talent and performance, and builds resilience. Beyond our organisation, we will help equip 10 million young people with essential skills to prepare them for job opportunities, by 2030. By investing in skills-building and providing work experience opportunities for young people, we will drive growth, and accelerate digital capabilities; building expertise and increasing productivity. We are working with partners on LevelUp – a youth employability platform – to provide a one-stop shop for young people to discover their purpose, get access to training, volunteering and work experiences. We will also grow our apprenticeship.”

Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director, Oxfam International, commented: “Unilever’s plan shows the kind of responsible action needed from the private sector that can have a great impact on tackling inequality, and help to build a world in which everyone has the power to thrive, not just survive. We welcome Unilever’s commitments for living wages and farmer incomes in the global supply chain – an important step in the right direction – and are proud to have been a partner of Unilever as it formed this ambitious new plan. How it is implemented is also crucial. We will work alongside Unilever as it does this, helping it to deliver for under-represented groups, to accelerate their systemic changes and to shift industry practice and laws.”

Professor John Ruggie, Harvard University, Former U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, member of the Unilever Sustainability Advisory Council, commented: “The right to an adequate standard of living is a fundamental human right – sadly one that many of millions of people around the world are unable to access. Decent work, enough to adequately maintain yourself and your family not only helps people escape poverty but helps economic and social development too. So I commend Unilever for its foresighted announcement today as it continues the evolution of its social ambition, founded on the respect for human rights.”

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