Three women drink tea from tin mugs during a break in a farmer field school training session

This issue relates to the following Sustainable Development Goals

  • 5 - Gender equality
  • 10 - reduced inequalities

Promoting diverse suppliers

Average read time: 7 minutes

Too many people are excluded from the opportunity to develop and expand their business. We want to change that.

Breaking down barriers to create opportunity

Creating 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 own business and make a wider economic contribution – and we want everyone to be able to access it.

A woman stares confidently at the camera from an office

But we know socio-cultural, 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. 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.

Three ways we’re making our supply chain more inclusive

We’re aiming to spend €2 billion a year by 2025 with diverse businesses owned and managed by people from under-represented communities, including women, under-represented racial and ethnic groups, people with disabilities and LGBTQI+ communities. That's a seven-fold increase on the 2020 baseline – but it’s only part of the story.

We also 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.

Thirdly, 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.

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 benefit our business and will contribute to stronger, fairer societies in the future.

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.

Expanding our supplier diversity programmes

We already have supplier diversity programmes in action – Ben & Jerry’s long-standing work with Greyston Bakery is a good example – and we’ll build on their success.

For instance, our North American programme 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. In 2020, it was shortlisted for a World Procurement Supplier Diversity & Inclusion award.

What makes our brownies different?

There’s a favourite saying at Greyston Bakery Opens in new window in New York: “We don’t hire people to bake brownies, we bake brownies to hire people.”

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. And their delicious brownies have been used in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for over 30 years.

We've also taken action in South Africa, where we launched our supplier diversity programme in 2018. Now we’re expanding these programmes, starting with UK&I, Kenya, Brazil, India, Mexico and Thailand.

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 four under-represented groups we’re focusing on. That is why we'll also invest in expert organisations and in setting up the right enabling environment for diverse suppliers to grow their business.

Sundial: empowering New Voices

Our Sundial Brands business is dedicated to inclusive beauty, serving the unmet needs of people of colour in the US through products including SheaMoisture.

Unilever and Sundial have created the New Voices Fund to empower women of colour entrepreneurs. With an initial investment of US$50 million, the intention is to scale the fund to US$100 million.

SheaMoisture has also established a $1 million fund as part of its community commerce model Opens in new window.

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, and good for the planet and good for people. 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, such as equity, diversity and inclusion. And 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.

Unlocking potential by sharing resources more fairly

However talented you are, running a business means drawing on the resources around you. And those resources haven't always been shared equitably.

You need to create networks, find role models and access mentorship. You also need skills, training, access to finance and the financial knowledge to go with it.

We know that many people face barriers to these resources. We aim to lift them. 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.

We've championed a range of capability development programmes for many years – such as our Shakti and Kabisig initiatives, with a particular focus on empowering women throughout our value chain – as we see women’s empowerment as one of the most important contributions we can make to fair, sustainable development. We've also developed partnerships with financial institutions to create packages of support through access to finance and business advisory services.

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.

Our brands are putting purpose into action

Many of our brands have their own capability-building programmes, drawing on their connections with consumers to support people preparing for the world of work or setting up their own business.

Our Home Care and our Beauty and Personal Care brands in particular focus on enabling access to skills and training and building confidence.

For example, our Sunlight brand in Indonesia partners with UN Women on the WeLearn Opens in new window 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. And our Sunsilk brand campaigns to help girls gain the vision, support, skills and confidence needed to go beyond social limitations. The Explore More Possibilities Opens in new window educational programme encourages them to imagine a new way forward.

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.