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This issue relates to the following Sustainable Development Goals

  • Gender equality
  • Reduced inequalities

Promoting diverse suppliers

Average read time: 11 minutes

More people should have the opportunity to develop and expand their business. We're making that happen – throughout our value chain.

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Breaking down barriers to create opportunity

Creating economic opportunity is one of the most important ways to build an inclusive world. Becoming a supplier to Unilever can be a gateway for people to grow their business and make a wider economic contribution – and we want more people to have that opportunity.

But we know sociocultural, systemic or economic barriers too often stand in people's way – barriers such as stereotyping or prejudice, lack of access to training and skills, and financial exclusion.

So we've set ourselves a goal as part of our Unilever Compass. We want to actively make our supply chain more diverse by reaching out to people from groups who’ve been under-represented up to now. At the same time, we'll unlock innovation, agility and opportunity – within our suppliers' businesses, and in ours.

Dave Ingram, our Chief Procurement Officer

We have 53,000 supplier partners around the world, and if all our partners commit to increase their spend with diverse suppliers, it will exponentially scale up and accelerate the transformation of our value chain. My big ambition is that our suppliers will consider the value of supplier diversity, and commit to it across their full network.

Dave Ingram, our Chief Procurement Officer

Three ways to a more inclusive supply chain

Our Unilever Compass goal commits us to spend more with diverse businesses.

Our equity, diversity and inclusion goal

Spend €2 billion annually with diverse businesses worldwide by 2025.

We’re approaching this in three ways. First, it means taking our ambitions for diversity across the world, building programmes in many markets where the infrastructure and systems for diverse supply chains are either in their early stages, or simply non-existent. In 2021, the first year of this commitment, we spent €445 million with diverse suppliers.

What do we mean by diverse suppliers?

A diverse business is one which is 51% or more owned, managed and controlled by members of diverse groups, that is certified by an approved certification body or has self-declared as a diverse business. That includes women, under-represented racial and ethnic groups, people with disabilities and LGBTQI+ communities.

Second, we want to address the barriers that have stood in the way of diverse suppliers in the past. That means building the capabilities of people running businesses now, and of people who could be the entrepreneurs of the future.

And third, we want our existing suppliers to be our partners in driving positive change. As part of our Partner with Purpose strategy, we'll encourage them to look at where they source their goods and services – and join our work to make their own supply chain more diverse. That way, we'll extend our reach and the impact we can achieve.

Taken together, these three actions do more than diversify our supply chain. We believe they unlock potential that has been marginalised for too long – potential that will contribute to stronger, fairer societies in the future, and help our business thrive. Because supplier diversity makes clear business sense: suppliers who reflect the demographics of our markets will help us find new approaches, make our supply chain more competitive, and contribute to the trust our consumers and customers place in our brands.

A successful supplier diversity programme presents a real opportunity to answer the resilience, savings and innovation needs of businesses, while also delivering sustainable, positive social impact.

Alexandra Tarmo, our Head of Partnerships and Social Procurement

Expanding our supplier diversity programmes

We already have supplier diversity programmes in a number of markets – and we’re building on their success to drive the outcomes we’re seeking – innovation, growth and positive social impact.

Our North American programme, for example, identifies opportunities to partner with under-represented groups in businesses. Through initiatives like making sure every tender process includes at least one diverse supplier, our North American business doubled its spend with diverse suppliers between 2017 and 2020.

We've also taken action in South Africa, Kenya, the UK and Ireland, Brazil, Australia and India. And in Thailand, we've worked with the Thailand Office of SME Promotion Board (OSMEP) to design the country's first-ever diverse suppliers’ recruitment drive: in effect, launching a nationwide search for local and diverse small and medium-sized enterprises to join our supplier development programme.

We know that some countries are significantly more advanced when it comes to recognising and supporting diverse-owned businesses than others. Not all have expert organisations to support the development of the under-represented groups we’re focusing on. So we’re also partnering with expert organisations and creating the right enabling environment for diverse suppliers to grow their businesses, making sure our opportunities are more visible and accessible.

Pressing the accelerators: creating a platform for growth

One of the ways we're creating a more diverse supply chain is through 'accelerator' programmes such as MSDUK’s Accelerator programme which promotes minority supplier development by connecting them to opportunities in corporate supply chains. Another example is the 100+ Accelerator programme, which supports start-ups with ideas for sustainable businesses. Of the 35 start-ups so far on the programme, 49% are female-founded – and we’ve already invested in two diverse businesses through the initiative.

Helping diverse businesses get 'supply chain ready'

Lack of early investment and access to social capital and mentorship are among the factors that can hold back businesses owned by people from under-represented groups.

In the UK, we've joined with WPP, Google and Dow to back the MSDUK Accelerator programme. This new supplier diversity initiative will help 300 ethnic minority businesses get ready to become supply chain partners by arming them with the networks, training and skillsets to help them grow and succeed.

We’re a sponsor of the programme, which requires no equity or fees from the participants, who get access to coaching and mentorship opportunities. We’ll invest in those businesses that may become our supplier partners in the future. The programme’s first cohort have been chosen because their business propositions support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

We're also changing some of the ways we search for new technology partners and new ideas – known as ‘scouting’ – and we’re putting artificial intelligence to work for diversity. For example, we've added diversity as a criterion in the searches conducted for us by scouting platforms yet2 and scoutbee.

Partnering with purpose boosts our impact

Our Partner with Purpose strategy aims to build relationships with suppliers based on shared purpose. It aims to drive what we call 4G growth – mutual growth that’s consistent, competitive, profitable and responsible. We want to use how we buy goods and services to increase the impact we have on the issues that matter to us and our suppliers, including equity, diversity and inclusion. If the people we buy from are in turn buying from diverse suppliers, it will scale up and accelerate our drive to transform our value chain.

Under our Partner with Purpose strategy, we've developed detailed plans to deliver on our social and environmental commitments: Our people plans, and Our planet plans. Both depend on us encouraging positive change throughout our supply chain, to create maximum impact on the issues that matter most. To help foster this change, we've launched three 'supplier promises' – voluntary commitments we encourage our suppliers to make to support our objectives on equity, diversity and inclusion, living wages and climate.

Unilever's Supplier Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Promise

By signing Unilever’s Supplier Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Promise, our supplier partners promise to:

  • Create an enabling environment with inclusive policies, and with leaders educated and empowered to role-model inclusive behaviour.
  • Set and communicate goals to achieve organisational diversity and gender equity; demonstrable throughout senior leadership and their Unilever account teams.
  • Develop a transparent supplier diversity strategy and advocacy network which links to their broader company objectives and allows them to track progress against their strategic commitments.
  • Grow diverse spend through inclusive procurement policies and practices designed to create social equity.
  • Engage to allow future reporting of Unilever’s tier-2 diverse spend, ie the proportion of their spend going to suppliers meeting the definition of a diverse business which is directly attributable to their business with Unilever.
  • Maintain an open dialogue to share best practices and opportunities for collaboration with their customer and supplier partners.

Unlocking potential by sharing resources more fairly

Running a successful business requires access to skills, training, finance and financial knowledge. And having access to resources such as networks, the skills of mentors and the inspiration of role models. But resources like this haven't always been shared equitably and we know that many people face barriers in acquiring them. We aim to lift these barriers. That means creating an enabling environment for diverse suppliers – one that fits their local context, and helps them thrive in it. It also means investing in their capability through our supplier development programme.

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We've run skills and training programmes around the world for many years. We're now going further, building on the success of these programmes to strengthen and diversify our supply chain, supporting people with the resources they need for their, and our, future success. As part of our goal to raise living standards, we’re working to help 5 million SMEs grow their businesses through access to skills, finance and technology.

Changing the game for women-owned businesses: Sourcing2Equal

Corporate supply chains are full of opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – but right now those opportunities are not being fairly shared.

Worldwide, it’s estimated that only 1% of the procurement spend by large organisations goes to businesses that are women-owned and women-led.

That needs to change.

We're working on a range of supplier development programmes which aim to transform the opportunities for diverse-owned businesses in corporate supply chains, including ours. Sourcing2Equal is a good example. It’s a global partnership programme which aims to connect 5,000 women-owned SMEs to contracts by 2023.

Launched in 2021 and implemented by IFC, Sourcing2Equal Kenya advances gender-inclusive sourcing in a country where a third of SMEs are women-owned – but remain under-represented in the procurement spend of big companies. By working with businesses to increase the opportunities they offer, as well as through boosting SME capabilities and access to finance, the programme is targeting an increase in the share and volume of procurement contracts for women-owned SMEs in two years.

Our brands are also supporting small businesses

Some of our brands have their own capability-building programmes for small businesses and entrepreneurs, often focused on women. A number of our Beauty & Personal Care and Home Care brands focus on enabling access to skills and training and building confidence. For instance, our Sunsilk brand campaigns to help girls gain the vision, support, skills and confidence needed to go beyond social limitations through its Explore More Possibilities educational programme which encourages them to imagine a new way forward.

In Indonesia, our Sunlight brand partners with UN Women on the WeLearn digital platform. This is improving equal learning opportunities to empower women who want to start or grow their business. The initiative equips current and aspiring women entrepreneurs with the necessary business and digital skills to adapt to the changing world of work.

In Kenya, Sunlight has set up Women of More.

Sunlight Women of More: empowering entrepreneurs

Illustration of a pack of yellow Sunlight dishwash product on a purple background

Our Sunlight brand set up its Women of More programme to help address a glaring imbalance in East African business.

While women-owned businesses account for almost half of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in Kenya, compared with male-owned businesses, they employ fewer staff and are less likely to grow.

Why? The main barriers are financial literacy and access to funds. Without these vital assets, too many female-owned businesses stay stuck at the micro-enterprise level.

Working alongside the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), Sunlight designed Women of More to empower women entrepreneurs through a number of initiatives, in particular financial literacy training.

Sunlight has now joined forces with Absa Bank Kenya with the aim of reaching over 100,000 women in East Africa by the end of 2026.

Sunlight Women of More

Through our Sundial Brands we’re dedicated to inclusive beauty, serving the unmet needs of people of colour in the US with brands such as Nubian Heritage and SheaMoisture. The New Voices Fund was initiated with funding from Sundial and Unilever and invests in businesses run by women of colour entrepreneurs. The New Voices Foundation offers them grants and support such as coaching and mentoring. SheaMoisture is one of Sundial’s brands that also invests in small, black-owned businesses as part of its community commerce model.

If we succeed in unlocking more potential, in more people, we'll be on our way to a more inclusive supply chain, and a more inclusive world.

What makes our ice cream different?

For over 30 years, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream has sourced brownies for its delicious ice cream from Greyston Bakery in New York. A Certified B Corp, and New York State’s first Benefit Corporation, Greyston has become a role model for companies looking to do more for their communities.

Profits from the bakery help support its parent organisation, the non-profit Greyston Foundation, which provides child care, housing, healthcare, job training, a computer learning centre, and more for low-income people in the community of Yonkers.