Enhancing livelihoods through partnerships across the value chain

Our partnerships aim to empower women and improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers as part of Unilever's wider purpose: making sustainable living commonplace.

Woman with tea leaves in India

At Unilever, we have set ourselves a big goal: by 2020, we will enhance the livelihoods of millions of people while growing our business. To achieve this, we want to create transformational change - meaning the fundamental changes to whole systems that are needed to really make a difference, both to the livelihoods of people around the world and to our prospects for growing sustainably as a business.

Our business is uniquely placed. From our suppliers, including the millions of smallholders and farmers who grow our ingredients, through the network of entrepreneurs and retailers who sell our products, to the billions of consumers who use them, the breadth and depth of our value chain gives us real opportunity to make a difference.

We know we cannot achieve our goals alone, therefore we work in partnerships with a wide range of public, non-governmental and private stakeholders. We harness the scale, expertise, and reach of our business to these partnerships to achieve change in key areas: empowering five million women throughout our value chain, and improving the livelihoods of 800,000 smallholder farmers; our work in building inclusive distribution models; and our contributions to education.

Empowering women throughout our value chain

Knorr vendor in a village

Empowering women is key to eradicating poverty and accelerating global development.

We are in a unique position to make a difference. Women play essential roles in our value chain – as growers, distributors and suppliers, as employees, leaders, and managers –and as our customers, of which more than 70% are women.

Our global partnerships aim to create a transformational difference for women and families globally, throughout the value chain, helping us achieve our goal while securing our supply chain, building our brands, and growing our business. We have a strategic partnership with UN Women, through which we implement programmes on the ground, advocate for policy changes, and create powerful campaigns to raise awareness and drive consumer engagement.

In 2014, we joined UN Women’s HeForShe campaign, which aims to secure the commitment of a billion men to support women’s empowerment and gender equality around the world. As a HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 Champion, we have joined 10 governments, 10 universities, and nine other companies to identify approaches to address gender inequality.

Improving the livelihoods of thousands of smallholders

Our business touches the lives of millions of people in agricultural communities, both through our brands and products, and through our supply chain. Our aim is to enhance the livelihoods of more than 800,000 smallholders in our supply chain through partnerships which focus on the themes of nutrition, women, WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene), and finance, as well as encouraging agricultural entrepreneurs and sustainable agriculture.

This approach aims to be holistic, and enables us to develop globally repeatable programmes which can be adapted to different countries and crops. Working with our smallholder farmers has a strong business as well as moral case - it drives economic development and helps us to meet our goals on sustainable and profitable growth.

Our strategy involves working with multiple partners to achieve impacts beyond our continuing work to improve agricultural practices. We work with many partners in this field, including Oxfam, Acumen, Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, the Ford Foundation, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit), PSI, the Rainforest Alliance, and national and local government agencies.

For example, we work with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) Partnership to improve the health and nutrition of smallholders and their families, with a specific focus on women and young children. This partnership aims to improve the nutrition and health of 2.5 million people in rural communities.

Inclusive distribution models

Our distribution networks are a vital part of our value chain, bringing our products to consumers. They give us an important opportunity to enhance livelihoods and drive economic growth, because they involve many small-scale distributors and retailers, including young entrepreneurs.

We aim to widen economic participation by improving the incomes of five million small-scale retailers in our distribution network, and partnerships are essential to achieve this. In many cases, we are targeting women specifically, as we know that empowering women often brings associated benefits to the wider community as well as individuals.

A great example is our Shakti programme, through which we train women in rural India to become our sales agents, and we aim to build on the success of this model through partnerships in other countries.

In Nigeria we have enhanced the Shakti model by combining the sales model with consumer behavioural change programmes– for example Lifebuoy's campaign encouraging people to wash their hands at key points during the day to promote good hygiene or Knorr promoting nutritious cooking. This is an initiative of the “Amsterdam Initiative against malnutrition (AIM)” supported by the Dutch government and in partnership with GAIN, PSI, BOP Innovation Center and local Nigerian partners.

An example is our 'Transform' partnership. It is the first initiative to be launched since Unilever and DFID committed to working together to help the world’s poor in 2014 – the first partnership of its kind between a leading international business and DFID. The Clinton Guistra Enterprise Partnership is a partner in `Transform` bringing its expertise in last-mile distribution to ensure connection to the businesses on the ground. Together, new innovative distribution model are developed which help women in Nigeria improve their basic book-keeping and sales skills by selling our brands and other everyday products. Read more.

Mother reading health literature

Another approach to an inclusive business model is Sunlight Villages – a partnership between Unilever, PSI and its local affiliate Society for Family Health (SFH). We are partnering to improve the health and well-being of rural populations in Nigeria.

The project aims to improve the health and well-being of rural communities whilst creating market development opportunities for 'good for you' products. SFH will promote the health benefits combined with behavioural change communication on nutrition, hygiene, and oral care through our brands, Knorr, Blueband, Lifebuoy and Pepsodent. It delivers through direct household interaction with over 600,000 mothers of childbearing age.

Transforming lives through education

A good education has the power to help transform people’s lives economically as well as academically - by reducing poverty, increasing income, and laying the foundation for economic growth. We engage in partnerships to help provide the quality education that too many children lack: there are currently 58 million children of primary age who do not go to school, while an estimated 130 million children will reach grade four, but will fail to learn the basic literacy, maths, and social skills they need to achieve their full potential.

Our laundry brand Dirt is Good works in partnership with UNICEF to give children access to quality education through the Learning for Tomorrow Initiative. We are helping 10 million children in Brazil, India and Vietnam to gain access to learning opportunities, by supporting new infrastructure to track the number of children not attending school; training teachers; enhancing education standards; and creating campaigns designed to increase demand for good quality education.

Key facts and challenges

  • The world’s population is predicted to reach 9 billion by 20501.
  • 805 million people still suffer hunger (1 in 9 people).2
  • Farm yields could increase by 20-30% and developing world agricultural production 2.5-4% if women farmers were given the same resources as men, reducing hunger by 100-150 million3.
  • 85% of the world’s farmers are smallholders and they produce 70% of the world’s food4.
  • Women produce 50% of the world’s food, but own only 1% of the world’s property5.
  • Whilst women do 66% of the world’s work, they earn only 10% of the income and account for 70% of people in poverty6.
  • 58 million children of primary school age do not receive a school education7.
  • 443 million school days are lost each year through lack of safe water, sanitation and hygiene8.

Our global partnerships in action

  • 5 million: the number of women we aim to help empower by 2020
  • 800,000: smallholders whose livelihoods we aim to improve.
  • 10 million: the children in Brazil, India and Vietnam we are helping to gain access to learning opportunities.
  • By 2020 we will source 100% of our agricultural raw materials sustainably.
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