Inclusive business

Unilever's work on inclusive business supports

4 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Select one of the goals to find out how we're taking action in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Find out how we’re realising the business opportunity from the SDGs
Partnership For The Goals

Partnerships For The Goals

The social and environmental change required to meet the SDGs cannot be addressed by one business acting alone. Zero hunger, zero poverty, climate action, eradicating modern slavery – these are transformational goals, and they require transformational change, brought about by a concerted effort. Business, governments and civil society all have a role to play.

We’re involved in a wide range of partnerships, which often include new types of funding and new ways of working, whether with fellow companies or with other agencies. The Consumer Goods Forum’s sector-wide commitment to zero net deforestation by 2020, and the Unstereotype Alliance, a partnership with UN Women and other businesses aimed at eliminating gender stereotypes from advertising, are good examples of what’s possible.

Our global partnerships with NGOs and others address issues ranging from water and sanitation, to sustainable sourcing, to improving health and nutrition. Many harness the strength of our brands – such as the Vaseline® Healing Project, a partnership with NGO Direct Relief which aims to help heal the skin of 5 million people by 2020.

But we want to go much further – both in the impact of our partnerships, and in their alignment with the SDGs. A good example is TRANSFORM, our partnership with the UK government's DFID, which uses a public–private finance model to address persistent developmental challenges and aims to enable 100 million people in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia to gain access to products and services that have been shown to improve health, livelihoods, the environment or wellbeing.

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Inclusive business

Millions of people help source, make and sell our products. We want to help them unlock even more of their potential – so they can support themselves, their communities and our business.

Inclusive business pillar

Building connections, removing barriers

There's a story behind every one of our products – the story of the people who make them possible.

The people in our factories and sites who make our brands play a crucial part. And beyond our walls, there is a network of millions more, from the smallholder farmers in our extended supply chain, to the retailers and entrepreneurs who bring our brands to new and existing consumers.

All over the world, we rely on and support the people who contribute to our success. We have strong connections with them already and we want to make them even stronger. By helping to remove the barriers to growth faced by the people in our value chain, we aim to help them grow and thrive.

Unlocking the potential of millions

Through technology, training, increased access to finance and markets, and better ways of working, we believe we can help millions of people unlock their potential. In the process, we'll be contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including No Poverty (SDG 1), and Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8).

Making our organisation more inclusive also makes strong business sense. It helps secure our essential raw materials, expands the markets for our products and increases the resilience of our business model in an uncertain world.

Our strategy


We aim to contribute to economic wellbeing through wealth creation, financial inclusion, employment, improving skills and providing access to markets. That means creating a virtuous cycle of growth that both drives and is driven by our business.

We want our approach to be holistic and integrated with the business, because we recognise that social, environmental and commercial progress are all interconnected. We know that smallholder farmers, for instance, often lack access to markets, financial support, and information and training. They can also be held back by poor diet, gender inequalities and health problems, including those caused by inadequate sanitation.

Our programmes and partnerships aimed at helping smallholders bring in elements from across our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. They include promoting sustainable agricultural practices, empowering women, advancing human rights and fairness in the workplace, and improving health & hygiene and nutrition.

Similarly, our work with small-scale retailers in our distribution network focuses on helping them build their capacity and addressing the barriers that currently hold them back, such as limited market information, access to credit, and a lack of business or financial management skills. By tackling these obstacles to growth, we create further ways to have a positive social impact – such as by expanding opportunities for women in our value chain.

During 2018 we decided to merge our target on increasing the participation of young entrepreneurs in our value chain, with our smallholder farmer and small-scale retailer targets, because the majority of our young entrepreneur programmes are focused on small-scale retailer and smallholder farmers in developing and emerging markets.

Our commitment

By 2020, we will have a positive impact on the lives of 5.5 million people by improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, and the incomes of small-scale retailers, and by increasing the participation of young entrepreneurs in our value chain.

Progress to date

In 2018, we enabled around 746,000 smallholder farmers and 1.7 million small-scale retailers to access initiatives aiming to improve their agricultural practices or increase their incomes.Ж Φ

Ж Around 490,000 women have accessed initiatives under both the Inclusive Business and the Opportunities for Women pillars in 2018. 

Φ Measured 1 October – 30 September.

Future challenges

While we have made good progress in improving the agricultural practices of many of our smallholder farmers through certification programmes, the challenge is to provide proof of impact that extends beyond these practices, in areas such as health and nutrition, which can act as barriers to improved livelihoods. These issues must be addressed holistically and systematically. That's why we are working with a wide range of partners to improve the systems and infrastructure in which smallholders operate.

Similarly, for small-scale retailers, our ambition is to increase their incomes through our programmes such as Shakti and Kabisig Summits. We have evidence that our sales increase through such initiatives but there is more work to be done to quantify the impact on small-scale retailer incomes. It is our aim to capture this information as part of our new small-scale retailer learning platform. We're also developing new methods for measuring social impact – such as the Lean Data Gender Toolkit (PDF - 1.8MB co-developed with Acumen in 2018, which is described in opportunities for women.

Another key element of building a more inclusive business, and contributing to a more prosperous world, is financial inclusion. An estimated 2 billion people around the world don’t have access to many basic financial services – and without that access, it is harder for people to manage their lives, engage fully with the economy and invest in their futures.

In 2018, we joined forces with 10 other businesses and organisations in the CEO Partnership for Financial Inclusion. It aims to develop partnerships to expand access, including among women, farmers, and small businesses. Our flagship Jaza Duka partnership with Mastercard in Kenya, which enables retailers to access interest-free credit to order stock, is an example of this kind of collaboration. We expect to explore more models like Jaza Duka, which is described in Empowering small-scale retailers for growth, in 2019 and beyond.


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Taking action

Our commitment focuses on improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, supporting small-scale retailers, while creating and sharing wealth.

Targets & performance

As part of the Inclusive Business pillar of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we have set ambitious targets to create a positive impact on the lives of 5.5 million people.

Inclusive business
Our Commitment

By 2020, we will have a positive impact on the lives of 5.5 million people, by improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, improving the incomes of small-scale retailers and increasing the participation of young entrepreneurs in our value chain.

Our performance

By 2018, we had enabled around 746,000 smallholder farmers and 1.7 million small-scale retailers to access initiatives aiming to improve their agricultural practices or increase their incomes.Ж Φ

Our perspective

We have enabled around 1.7 million small-scale retailers in our distribution network to access initiatives aiming to increase their incomes, principally through Perfect Store, Kabisig Summits in the Philippines and Shakti in India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Colombia and Sri Lanka. We do not report all small-scale retailer initiatives due to data availability and quality issues.

Through our commitment to sourcing sustainably – in particular cocoa, tea, palm oil, vanilla and vegetable crops – we continue to provide training to improve smallholder farmer agricultural practices, having already exceeded our 2020 target. By working with our suppliers and partners, we have enabled around 746,000 smallholder farmers to access initiatives aiming to improve their agricultural practices.

Ж Around 490,000 women have accessed initiatives under both the Inclusive Business and the Opportunities for Women pillars in 2018.

Φ Measured 1 October – 30 September.


  • Achieved 0

  • On-Plan 1

  • Off-Plan 2

  • %

    Of target achieved 0

Key to our performance
  • Achieved

    This is the number of targets we have achieved

  • On-Plan

    This is the number of targets we are on track to achieve

  • Off-Plan

    This is the number of targets we are currently not on track

  • %

    Of target achieved

    This is the percentage of the target we are on track to achieve

Our targets

Please see Independent Assurance for more details of our assurance programme across the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Improve livelihoods of smallholder farmers

Our goal is to engage with at least 500,000 smallholder farmers in our supply network. We will help them improve their agricultural practices, and thus enable them to become more competitive. By doing so, we will improve the quality of their livelihoods.

By 2018, we had enabled around 746,000 smallholder farmers to access initiatives aiming to improve their agricultural practices.


Our Perspective

We continue to expand our programmes aiming to improve the agricultural practices of smallholder farmers. In 2018 we increased our reach by 30,000 smallholder farmers largely through the expansion of existing smallholder programmes such as the Turkey Tea Suppliers Initiative, Tea Sri Lanka, the Trustea Smallholder Farmers Initiative in India and the Palm Oil Smallholder Initiative. We also expanded our programme with cocoa smallholders with Cargill in Cote d'Ivoire where we are supporting farmers to diversify their incomes.

Our programmes help smallholders improve their yields and increase the quality and consistency of the crops they grow. That gives them the platform to increase their incomes, while giving us the visibility and security of supply we need.

We recognise that smallholder farmers often face other barriers to growth and improved incomes – from lack of access to markets, financial support, and information and training. These barriers must be addressed holistically and systematically. We're working to do this in a number of ways: directly with smallholders, with a range of partners and through certification and other programmes.


Connecting with smallholder farmers to enhance livelihoods

Improve incomes of small-scale retailers

We will create and improve the incomes of 5 million small-scale retailers in our distribution network.

We have enabled around 1.7 million small-scale retailers in our distribution network to access our Perfect Store initiative, as well as other programmes such as the Shakti initiative and Kabisig Summits.


Our Perspective

The number of small-scale retailers accessing initiatives increased slightly in 2018 to 1.7 million, principally through the continued roll-out of our Kabisig Summits in the Philippines and Shakti programme in India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and most recently Colombia. Whilst these programmes are making a difference at local level, they are not at a sufficient scale to help us achieve our target of reaching 5 million small-scale retailers by 2020.

In response to this challenge, we launched the RISE Sales Academy in 2018. Initially piloted in Nigeria and Sri Lanka, RISE aims to help millions of small-scale retailers improve their business skills. It brings together the insights we've gained from our global programmes, such as Perfect Store, and local programmes, such as Kabisig Summits in the Philippines. It uses a learning app to provide courses on subjects such as customer service, marketing and self-confidence. Crucially, it is designed to work on mobile phones in low-bandwidth locations, or offline via video courses, with support from our local staff.

We expect progress against the target to accelerate from next year as the RISE Sales Academy expands to more markets.

Empowering small-scale retailers for growth
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