A young schoolboy outside a toilet in India holds up a poster about keeping toilets clean

This issue relates to the following Sustainable Development Goals

  • 6 - clean water and sanitation

Sanitation and hygiene for better health

Average read time: 12 minutes

We’re fighting the dangers of poor sanitation and hygiene by helping millions of people gain access to clean toilets and keep their homes clean.

Hand in yellow rubber glove showing-thumb-up-sign above a white toilet bowl

The crisis of poor sanitation and hygiene continues

As Covid-19 spread across the globe, the need to keep our homes, workplaces and community spaces hygienically clean became even more acute. Our portfolio of hygiene brands, and their programmes and partnerships, are needed now more than ever.

Sanitation should be a basic human right for all

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2 in 3 People worldwide risk disease as they don’t have access to a clean, safe toilet

According to the World Health Organization, two in three people in the world are in danger of disease because they don’t have access to a clean, safe toilet. Just let that sink in for a moment.

Close on 900 million people are still forced to defecate in the open. And WaterAid’s research shows that every two minutes a child under five dies from a disease linked to unsafe water and sanitation.

We believe that access to sanitation should be a basic human right for all, not a privilege for some. We’re contributing to UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 on achieving adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all – through the power of our leading toilet hygiene brand, Domestos .

Our purpose

Domestos’ purpose is to stop the spread of germs and provide access to clean and safe toilets for people worldwide.

Through our campaigns and programmes, we’re focusing on improving sanitation in schools. We’re also partnering with governments and NGOs to address the crisis of poor sanitation, and as co-founders of the Toilet Board Coalition, we’re leading for change.

Three young children wash their hands in the sink at school

Fighting Covid-19

In March 2020, we announced that we’re providing free bleach, as well as soap, sanitiser and food worth €100 million to help tackle Covid-19 . We also co-funded the Hygiene & Behaviour Change Coalition (HBCC) in partnership with the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) to tackle the spread of coronavirus, drawing on the expertise of partners such as the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

The programme aims to reach 1 billion people worldwide, providing over 20 million hygiene products in the developing world, including in areas where there is little or no sanitation. Building on Unilever’s tried and tested hygiene interventions, it will cover mass communications, behaviour change programmes and digital solutions, focused on hand hygiene and environmental hygiene.

Alan Jope, our CEO

Domestos and Lifebuoy have a proven track record of running hygiene awareness and education programmes successfully, and we hope that the work we will be able to drive jointly with UK aid will help save lives that could otherwise be impacted by coronavirus.

Alan Jope, our CEO

Improving hygiene for 29 million people with UNICEF

Domestos has been working alongside UNICEF since 2012 to help millions of families who don’t have a clean and safe toilet. As part of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (PDF 8.02MB) Opens in new window, we set out to help 25 million people gain improved access to a toilet by 2020. Together we exceeded that target, reaching 29 million people by the end of 2020. And our work continues.

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29 million People helped to gain improved access to a toilet over 2012-2020

When people buy a specially-marked bottle of Domestos, they don’t just buy unbeatable germ-kill, they are also supporting UNICEF’s work to help every child have access to a cleaner, safer toilet. For each bottle of Domestos bought, we’re donating 5% of the proceeds to UNICEF’s sanitation improvement programmes. That’s around €2 million a year.

Cleaner toilets mean a brighter future

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1 in 3 Schools lack a usable toilet

One in three schools around the world don’t have a usable toilet, and children are reluctant to use toilets if they aren’t clean.

We wanted to help tackle this problem, but it wasn’t straightforward to find the right solution. We tried a number of approaches, such as building toilets via the Domestos Toilet Academy, before we hit on the right idea: Cleaner Toilets, Brighter Futures. Through this programme we’re helping schools maintain their facilities so that they’re safe and accessible. Core to this is teaching children how handwashing and using appropriate toilet manners go together – and because schools act as community hubs, learnings can be shared with the wider community too.

A group of 21 schoolchildren pose for a photo outside their school toilets in India

Alongside our Lifebuoy soap brand, Domestos is working with UNICEF and the government of India on Cleaner Toilets, Brighter Futures. Together, we aim to improve the use and maintenance of 150,000 school toilet facilities across 14 states. This will ultimately benefit almost 9 million children.

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213,000 Schoolchildren reached through our schools programme to provide cleaner, safer toilets

We know that in schools where the programme has been implemented, children visit the toilets 25% more, enabling them to concentrate better on schoolwork. So far, the schools programme has helped schools serving around 213,000 children achieve cleaner, safer toilets.

We’re also supporting our work in schools through the Hygiene & Behaviour Change Coalition , and with development agency GIZ we’re exploring how we could include surface hygiene in this programme. This would mean we could focus not just on toilets, but on the whole school environment.

School maintenance teams are vital

We’ve learned that school cleaners are crucial if our Cleaner Toilets, Brighter Futures is to succeed. So Domestos works with them to provide training programmes to keep services well maintained and operational.

In South Africa, for example, hygiene and sanitation-related illnesses are a major cause of absenteeism in schools. So we’ve worked with the Education Department to distribute a training video and manual to the maintenance teams.

In 2020, due to Covid-19 lockdowns, we started delivering the training digitally. This will help us reach many more schools – from just 500 when delivered in schools to around 15,000 online every year. Lifebuoy also donated bars of soap to ensure daily handwashing was a priority.

Campaigning for change

It’s not just products and programmes that bring about improvements in sanitation. Advocacy is equally important in promoting change. By joining forces with others through initiatives likes World Toilet Day or the Toilet Board Coalition, we can raise awareness of sanitation issues.

Unblocking sanitation for schools

On World Toilet Day in November 2020, we took action to make school sanitation a global priority with #SanitationUnblocked. Domestos hosted a global roundtable discussion with five leading experts on the topic who shared their views on how to promote action – from more science and funding, to better maintenance and the need to make an emotional connection and prompt behaviour change. Over 9,000 people watched the event, which was live-streamed on LinkedIn.

Better sanitation; better economies

We know that investment in water and sanitation boosts the economy. And as UN-Water notes, a toilet is not just a toilet, it’s an opportunity-maker, a dignity-provider, a lifesaver.

We co-founded the Toilet Board Coalition Opens in new window (TBC) to help build the ‘sanitation economy’. The TBC supports sanitation enterprises that increase and improve access to safe toilets. Our employees also get involved, mentoring sanitation entrepreneurs to help them strengthen their businesses so they can attract investment.

Bringing together businesses, NGOs, sanitation experts and social entrepreneurs, today the TBC benefits more than 2.7 million people.

WASH in the workplace

Nine out of ten jobs in developing countries are created by private enterprises. So business clearly has a big role to play in tackling water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in the workplace.

We support the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Pledge for Access to WASH at the Workplace. And we’re part of WASH4Work Opens in new window, a group of businesses and public organisations mobilising efforts to improve access to WASH for employees, as well as in our supply chains and surrounding communities.

TRANSFORMing access to toilets

We want to make it easier for people to access toilets in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, which are severely affected by poor sanitation.

Unilever co-founded the TRANSFORM initiative with the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in 2015. TRANSFORM aims to improve the lives of low-income households through supporting market-based solutions to development challenges, including sanitation.

So far TRANSFORM has provided grant funding and tailored business support to 56 social businesses across 13 countries Opens in new window, including 12 in the area of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

Overall, we’ve committed £40 million and reached around 4 million people.

Hygiene at home and beyond

As well as keeping toilets clean and practising the thorough handwashing that maintains good health, we also need to keep our homes and community spaces hygienic.

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1 billion People benefit from our Home Care brands every day

Unilever has some of the world's most recognisable – and effective – home care products such as bleach, surface cleaner and laundry detergent brands. Every day, 1 billion people across 190 countries benefit from our Home Care brands , such as Domestos, Cif, Comfort, OMO, Seventh Generation, Sunlight and Blueair. Along with our suppliers and partners around the world, they’ve been working at a record pace to provide essential products to combat Covid-19.

With the onset of the pandemic, people more than doubled how often they clean their homes, and hygiene became a core concern for people returning to the workplace. But there was also confusion – and potentially dangerous misinformation – about how people could best protect themselves from the Covid-19 virus.

A pair of hands wearing yellow rubber gloves cleaning a white kitchen worktop with a cleaning product

Our brands responded quickly by issuing public health messages showing what was effective and designing creative initiatives to promote hygienic practices. These not only targeted people at home but those in the hospitality industry too: through our professional products we helped the industry to ramp up cleaning standards to reassure their customers, reaching over 40 countries.

Cleanipedia comes to the fore

Our Cleanipedia website Opens in new window gives tips and advice on how to clean your house. As people sought out help on keeping safe from Covid-19, we saw a big increase in traffic to the site.

Use bleach to clean smarter, not harder

In the face of coronavirus, Domestos launched a new public service campaign across TV and social media to educate people on the importance of safe, effective and targeted cleaning with bleach. In just four weeks, this reached more than 20 countries.

Our message is simple – deep cleaning doesn’t always mean getting a safer result. The key is cleaning smarter – such as cleaning the top 10 frequently touched items in the home several times a day, from door handles to taps.

In the UK, we partnered with Dr Lisa Ackerley – also known as the Hygiene Doctor – to help raise awareness of this message. And we also worked with leading influencers in Russia, Poland, South Africa, Turkey and Vietnam to spread our message about targeted hygiene and safe product use.

Our campaign was strengthened by results from a laboratory test showing that Domestos Thick Bleach and Multi-Purpose Spray is 99.99% effective against SARS-CoV-2.

Cif’s Covid Cleaning Challenge

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5 million People reached through Cif’s Cleaning Challenge

In Turkey, another of our hygiene brands, Cif, flipped its usual media plan to Covid-relevant communication instead. As part of the campaign, we partnered with 14 influencers who were tasked with using different Cif products to clean their homes and inviting their friends to join their Cleaning Challenge. It reached over 5 million people.

Cif also teamed up with Domestos to initiate a ‘Hygiene Movement’ in partnership with major online retailer Hepsiburada to donate products to those in need. The initiative was announced on the popular TV programme Survivor, and picked up over 50 million impressions on digital.

Meeting new consumer needs

As people stayed in to avoid infection and workplace hygiene became essential to employees returning to work, the demand for our cleaning and disinfecting products jumped and stayed high throughout 2020. From new antibacterial detergents in Brazil, sanitising Comfort fabric conditioners in South East Asia to new antibacterial Cif and Domestos cleaners in the UK, we’ve stepped up our efforts to provide the products people need to keep their homes and communities clean.

Covid-19 demanded quick thinking

A special brew

Unilever Brazil teamed up with brewer Heineken to manufacture a special batch of Cif household cleaner. Around 270,000 bottles of the alcohol-based sanitiser were given to families in São Paulo's most socially vulnerable favelas.

Made with alcohol from Heineken, the sanitiser took just 20 days from initial idea to production.

Combining forces

Covid prompted people to talk about laundry hygiene. In response, we wondered how could we combine the power of OMO detergent with Domestos bleach?

Fast-tracking our thinking – from idea to shipping in just 40 days – we launched OMO Powder Detergent with the Domestos Effect. It’s Turkey’s first-ever hygiene laundry range, delivered in record time.

Safer tourism

In Italy, our home hygiene brand Lysoform helped Rome’s culture and tourism sector reopen for business by cleaning the city’s main visitor attractions, including museums and monuments.

It’s the start of a new business model which will see Lysoform market sanitation services alongside selling cleaning products – the first brand in the country to do this.

Peter ter Kulve, President of our Home Care division

From public awareness campaigns, to launching new antibacterial ranges, to helping the most vulnerable, our brands have shown the true power of coming together.

Peter ter Kulve, President of our Home Care division

What’s next?

We want to continue refining and expanding our programmes so we can drive the biggest impact. But we cannot resolve sanitation and hygiene issues alone.

To do this effectively, and reach as many people as possible, we need to work with NGO partners and governments. So we’re focusing our efforts on working with national and local authorities and education boards around the world.

Whether in developing or developed countries, in communities, schools, the workplace, or our homes – together, we all need to prioritise SDG 6 – and help make sanitation and hygiene a reality for all.

Clean Future

We’ve seen unprecedented demand for our cleaning products and we’re incredibly proud to play our part helping to keep people safe in the fight against Covid-19. But that shouldn’t be a reason for complacency. We cannot let ourselves become distracted from the environmental crises that our world – our home – is facing.

We’ve set ourselves a new ambition – to transform our products to make them better, more affordable and sustainable. Our Clean Future strategy shows how we plan to achieve this.