Unilever inclusivity plan to tackle living wage, diverse suppliers, ad stereotypes

CEO Alan Jope said commitments to address social inequality "will make Unilever a better, stronger business", and pushed for "collective action" in addressing widening social divides.

Unilever has committed to work with more businesses run by women and under-represented groups, ensure its entire supply chain earns a living wage and increase the representation of diversity in its ads—as part of a wider corporate inclusivity plan.

The FMCG company, which owns around 400 brands worldwide, said it wants to use its position as the second-largest advertiser in the world to "drive change".

It pledged to increase diversity among those that create and feature in its ads, although it did not provide hard targets to this. It further committed to tackling stereotypes in advertising by promoting a more inclusive representation of people.

The advertising commitments are part of a broader set of equity and inclusivity-based pledges announced by the company on Thursday (January 21).

The Anglo-Dutch company said that by 2025, it will spend €2 billion (US$2.43 billion) annually with suppliers owned and managed by women, under-represented racial and ethnic groups, people with disabilities and LGBTQI+ individuals. In addition to adding these small and medium-sized businesses to its supplier roster, it will look to support their growth via a new Supplier Development Programme that will provide access to skills, financing and networking opportunities.

Separately, Unilever said that by 2025, it will have provided 5 million small and medium-sized enterprises in its retail value chain access to skills, finance and technology to help them grow their business and their income.

To improve its internal diversity, Unilever said it has developed a new diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy that will aim to remove barriers and bias in recruitment, make leaders accountable for the progression opportunities they provide diverse staff, and be staffed by a workforce that is representative of the diversity of the population in the countries where it operates. It did not provide hard targets for how and when it would achieve these goals.

In another major commitment, it has pledged that by 2030 every person in its supply chain who directly provides goods and services to Unilever will earn "at least a living wage or income". The initiative is specifically targeted at low-paid workers in manufacturing and agriculture. Unilever said it will work with its suppliers, other businesses, governments and NGOs to push for global adoption of a living wage, in hopes this will help low-income workers "break the cycle of poverty".

Finally, it plans to prepare its employees for "societal and technological changes" by reskilling or upskilling its entire workforce by 2025. The company said improving the skills of staff will help them "protect their livelihoods, whether within or outside of Unilever". Beyond skills development, it will develop and pilot new ways of working to offer both security and flexibility.

Externally, the company has pledged to equip 10 million young people with essential skills to prepare them for job opportunities by 2030. It will also grow its apprenticeship schemes around the world.

Unilever CEO Alan Jope said the inclusivity drive recognises the need for collective action on social inequality.

"The two biggest threats that the world currently faces are climate change and social inequality," he said. "The past year has undoubtedly widened the social divide, and decisive and collective action is needed to build a society that helps to improve livelihoods, embraces diversity, nurtures talent, and offers opportunities for everyone.

"We believe the actions we are committing to will make Unilever a better, stronger business; 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."

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