Health & hygiene

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Good Health and Wellbeing
  • Partnership For The Goals
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  4. Ready to respond to disasters & emergencies

Ready to respond to disasters & emergencies

We’re using our resources, expertise, products, and networks to better prepare for and respond to natural disasters – and support the needs of the millions of individuals forcibly displaced from their homes.

Family outside home that has been flooded in Bangladesh

More people than ever are having to leave their homes

Every year, there are 26 million people pushed into poverty in the face of increasingly frequent and severe natural disasters.1 These disasters have a huge human, environmental, societal and economic cost, and the effects of climate change will only drive these costs higher.2

On top of this, the current refugee crisis represents perhaps the biggest humanitarian challenge the world has ever known. An estimated 65.6 million people worldwide have been displaced from their homes by conflict, famine and persecution.3 Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under 18.

The impact of these crises – natural and man-made – is immense. They deprive people of their homes and livelihoods, tear families apart, devastate communities and destroy lives. They also disrupt the supply of essential goods and services, with businesses around the world – including ours – feeling the effects throughout the value chain.

This is why Unilever is committed to helping people better prepare for such crises, navigate these challenging times and rebuild or settle in their new homes, while working to make our business resilient in the face of increasing disasters and emergencies.

Always be prepared

Being prepared drives resilience – for communities and our business. We regularly look at which countries are most vulnerable to being affected by disasters and emergencies, and we invest to help them prepare.

For example, we worked with the Humanitarian Leadership Academy in 2016 and 2017 to help small Philippine-based businesses in our value chain prepare for emergencies. By training them to create business continuity plans, we can help ensure their resilience after a disaster and help people access essential goods in times of need – both of which can positively contribute to the local economy.

In addition to looking at our own business, we actively advocate for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and businesses to break down the silos that exist and work together to better prepare for crises.


Doctor giving Vaseline to child

Vaseline lends a healing hand

Millions of people affected by crises or poverty suffer from extreme physical discomfort and infection. This can leave them unable to work or function properly.

The cause? Common skin conditions that could be treated – or even prevented altogether – with a simple jar of Vaseline® Jelly. 82% of frontline health workers supporting people in crisis said that petroleum jelly would help them treat skin ailments better.4

We’re raising awareness and funds through our Vaseline® skin products. Our video campaign highlights the extraordinary difference that an ordinary jar of Vaseline® Jelly can make to people in need.

The Vaseline® Healing Project channels our support through the international relief organisation, Direct Relief. Since 2015, we’ve donated 3.3 million jars and bottles of Vaseline® Jelly, as well as providing expert skin care and training for local health workers. In 2017, our teams of dermatologists treated 1,760 Syrian refugees in Jordan camps. We sent almost 10,000 units of Vaseline® products to support Syrian refugees in Greece and Jordan. And we trained 563 primary healthcare workers to spot and treat skin conditions across India, South Africa and Mexico.

By 2017, we reached 2.6 million people through our Vaseline® Healing Project, setting us on our way to help heal the skin of five million people by 2020.

Relief where it counts

When a disaster strikes, we offer our expertise, products and funds to support emergency relief efforts and help communities address the immediate challenges that they face. We’re currently developing a rapid response toolkit to enable our global and country offices to work closely with our partners to quickly understand what’s needed and how they can help.

We have also created partnerships that provide immediate help. For example, in 2017, we partnered with international humanitarian aid organisation Direct Relief to help get people the products they need as fast as possible in times of crisis. Our soap, body wash and shampoo are part of the emergency kits distributed through Direct Relief’s networks.

Direct Relief has distributed thousands of kits in response to the 2017 hurricane season across the US and Caribbean islands, and in response to the flooding in Sierra Leone and Nepal.


Man giving presentation about Mum's Magic Hands programme

Mum’s magic hands guide the way in disaster areas

Refugee communities and those affected by flood, earthquake or other natural or man-made disasters are among the most vulnerable to disease. In 2017, we teamed up with Oxfam to create a customised programme – the first of its kind in an emergency setting – to promote handwashing with soap on key occasions (before preparing food, before eating, and after toilet use) to prevent the spread of diseases.

Every situation is different, so we spoke to women who were impacted by different emergencies – in Nepal, Pakistan and the Philippines – to help us understand the challenges they face in day-to-day life. We also identified the barriers and motivators to behaviour change in each of these settings. In response, we developed Mum’s Magic Hands, a programme that targets mothers and, through them, their families, in extremely difficult conditions.

At its heart is a story about a Mum and her magic hands, told through the eyes of a little girl. Mothers nurture their kids against all odds and their magic hands put their children to sleep, clean them, help them learn to walk and soothe away their pain – and washing those magic hands can prevent their children from getting ill. The story is brought to life through a series of sessions, with activities and stickers to promote and reinforce the practice of handwashing with soap at home and in the community.

The programme reached 900 mothers across earthquake affected areas in Nepal and was extremely successful in improving handwashing with soap knowledge and practice during the key occasions targeted. The pilot showed significant increases in practice of handwashing with soap before eating and preparing food (18% and 17% respectively). The programme also proved to significantly impact handwashing with soap after toilet with 45% more mothers observed washing their hands with soap.5

We are now working with Oxfam to share our programme findings with other organizations with the objective of offering the full suite of materials developed to interested humanitarian-based organizations that aim to improve handwashing with soap practice in emergency affected areas.

Displaced but not forgotten: supporting refugees' long-term needs

Some emergencies take place over a matter of hours, others over years. Either way, those impacted require support to rebuild their lives.

As such, we’re leveraging our brands, products and partnerships to help displaced families access everyday essentials, develop their skills and settle into their new homes.

In Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, Unilever joined forces with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Carrefour to help vulnerable individuals during the cold winter months. Through our campaign Smile with Us, we raised awareness of the refugee crisis in retail stores and donated a portion of the proceeds from the sale of our products to provide families with essential everyday items. This campaign enabled us to support hundreds of refugee families, while unlocking business growth and consumer engagement.

In Germany, we’re partnering with the Red Cross to offer career coaching to refugees, with help from our employee volunteers. In the UK, we are working with Sponsor Refugees to facilitate refugees’ social inclusion and integration by supporting their Community Sponsorship of Refugees scheme, through which community groups take on the responsibility of welcoming, supporting and settling refugee families.

Speaking up for refugee rights

We’re using our voice as a major global business to raise awareness of the refugee crisis, engage the private sector and champion policies that support the rights of refugees.

In early 2017, we joined the Tent Partnership for Refugees, which brings together businesses, governments and relief organisations. Additionally, we committed to work with local NGOs across Europe and the Middle East to help refugees access essential hygiene products and behaviours, develop skills, and feel at home in their host country.

In September 2017, our former CEO Paul Polman spoke in the margins of the UN General Assembly alongside other business leaders. He used his speech to reinforce the urgent need for action from the private sector.

We chose World Refugee Day on 20 June 2017 to kick off a Ben & Jerry’s campaign, ‘Together for Refugees’, with the International Rescue Committee. It asks European consumers to urge their representatives in Brussels to expand refugee resettlement in the EU.

Nearly 20,000 people have already emailed their Members of European Parliament across Europe and 17,500 have signed a petition in the Netherlands alone. Ben & Jerry's has also launched a new ice cream flavour − Home Sweet Honey Comb – to support the campaign. The packaging carries a clear message: ‘Refugees Welcome’.

Encouraging business to embrace refugees

Through Ben & Jerry’s, we’re partnering with The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network (TERN) to help refugees improve their livelihoods and better integrate them into their new society. The Ice Cream Entrepreneurs (ICE) Academy gives refugee entrepreneurs the training they need to develop their own business, alongside short-term jobs in our own business.

In 2017, we piloted the ICE Academy in the UK and we are extending it to Germany and the Netherlands in 2018.

We have also contributed to a report by the non-profit organisation the B-Team, that highlights eight ways that companies can help refugees – from creating jobs to using their voice. The report emphasises that businesses can help to change the narrative around refugees and change the system. We aim to be part of that change.

1 World Bank & Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery: Unbreakable: Building the resilience of the poor in the face of natural disasters, 2016

2 World Meteorological Organization: The Escalating Impacts of Climate-Related Natural Disasters, Report/15, July 2014

3 World Bank:

4 Based on an internal survey of 127 of Direct Relief’s partner clinics across 39 countries

5 Lifebuoy and Unilever’s Chief Sustainability Office partnership with Oxfam, collaborating on a handwashing with soap behaviour change programme for communities affected by flood, earthquake or other type of emergency. The programme was piloted in Nepal following the earthquake in 2015.

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