Tackling societal inequality and raising living standards across the value chain are good for business and society, says food giant

Unilever has announced a wide-ranging actions which is says will “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”.

Among its commitments is the requirement for all is suppliers to ensure their staff earn at least a living wage or income, by 2030. The food and drink giant has pledged to spend €2 billion annually with suppliers that are owned and managed by people from under-represented groups, by 2025.

Alan Jope, Unilever CEO, explained, “The two biggest threats that the world currently faces are climate change and social inequality. 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.”

Greater social divides

The move comes after the World Economic Forum released its Global Risks Report 2021, highlighting the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has not only claimed millions of lives, but also widened long-standing health, economic and digital disparities.

Minorities who were disadvantaged before the pandemic are at risk of missing pathways to the new and fairer societies that the recovery could unlock, it warned.

”Future growth has to be more inclusive and sustainable,” said Børge Brende, president, World Economic Forum, describing it as a ‘liveihood crisis’. “If we don’t address this we will also see new risks when it comes to the fragmentation in society.”

Unilever’s commitment was welcomed by NGO Oxfam International. The charity’s chief executive Gabriela Bucher 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.”