Health & hygiene

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Good Health and Wellbeing
  • Clean Water and Sanitation
  • Partnership For The Goals

Ready to respond to disasters & emergencies

We’re using our resources, expertise, products and networks to help communities better prepare for natural and man-made disasters, pandemics, and to support people forced from their homes.

Ready to respond to disasters & emergencies

More people than ever are being forced from their homes

Almost every day on the news, it seems as if we are hearing about devastating disasters and emergencies somewhere in the world. Some are natural, others are man-made, and the human cost for those affected is huge. Already, 26 million people are pushed into poverty every single year because of more frequent and severe natural disasters.1 And as the impacts of climate change are felt, this figure is expected to rise.2

Conflict, climate change and natural disasters are forcing record numbers of people from their homes. Currently, over 70 million people have been forced from their homes3, destroying livelihoods, tearing families apart and devastating communities. Over half of refugee children are thought to be out of school.4

The economic costs are also significant. In 2018 and 2019, natural disasters caused damage valued over $100 billion each year.5 The level of humanitarian assistance required by the UN has never been higher; in December 2019, the UN appealed for nearly $29 billion in aid from donors. In 2020, the UN estimates that nearly 168 million people worldwide will need humanitarian assistance and protection, which equates to about one person in 45 on the planet. This is the highest figure in decades.6

These crises have a direct impact on people’s lives and businesses, causing disruption and instability to supply chains and logistics. As well as the clear humanitarian rationale, there is a strong business case for the proactive management of disasters and emergencies, helping to ensure continuity of supply for essential goods and services.

How do we help?

We want to help people better prepare for crises, navigate challenging times and rebuild or settle in their new homes, while working to make our business resilient.

To prepare for crises, we look at what we as a business can do. We also actively advocate for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and businesses to work together on disaster planning. Businesses can bring important knowledge, infrastructure, resources and networks to help reduce the impact of emergencies.

When disaster does strike, we provide communities with a combination of business expertise, product donations, financial support and employee contributions. These all help with emergency relief efforts, assisting people to address the immediate challenges that they face.

Our disaster and emergency strategy takes a holistic, three-part approach:

  • Resilience: building preparedness before an emergency strikes
  • Relief: during the crisis
  • Rehabilitation: helping to rebuild communities, economies and value chains.

COVID-19

Medical authorities are clear: washing our hands thoroughly and frequently with soap, or using sanitiser where soap and water are not available, is one of the most effective ways to arrest the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

As the world’s biggest soap company, we have a responsibility to help. So we are deploying our expertise in how to teach people to handwash effectively, whichever brand they choose to use.

In March 2020, we announced that we’re providing free soap, sanitiser, bleach and food to the value of €100 million. Around half of this is going to the COVID Action Platform of the World Economic Forum, which is supporting global health organisations and agencies with their response to the emergency.

We are also partly funding a programme that we announced in partnership with the UK Department of International Development (DFID) to urgently tackle the spread of coronavirus. The programme, which is being led by our Lifebuoy and Domestos brands, will reach up to a billion people worldwide, raising awareness and changing behaviour to make sure people are washing their hands with soap regularly and disinfecting surfaces. The programme will also provide over 20 million hygiene products in the developing world, including in areas where there is little or no sanitation.

The initiative is also supporting UK and international NGOs, as well as other partners, in running programmes to tackle the spread of coronavirus through increasing access to hygiene products; a mass public awareness campaign on the importance of handwashing; and a hygiene behaviour change programme. We are also working with leading academics, including from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, to ensure the programme is focusing on where it can have the biggest impact.

Building resilience in local communities

We aim to build the resilience of local communities and supply chains to respond to disasters and climate shocks, by leveraging our business expertise.

In the Philippines, we worked with the Humanitarian Leadership Academy (HLA) to create an integrated approach to help small and medium-sized businesses in our value chain prepare for emergencies. Rather than waiting until a disaster impacts, together we trained over 1,000 businesses in creating business continuity plans, to help ensure their resilience after disasters and in turn, help people access essential goods in times of need – both of which can positively contribute to the local economy. The project won the ‘Barclays Developing Resilience’ Award at the 2019 Business in the Community Awards in the UK.

We're also helping smallholder farmers in our supply chain to improve their yields, and increase the quality and consistency of the crops they grow. In the future, we want to work more directly with smallholders to support them in areas such as diversifying their income, health, nutrition and education. And we’ll continue to provide training in sustainable agricultural methods that are more resilient to the effects of climate change.

Relief where it counts

We’ve been responding to global disasters and humanitarian crises for years – and 2019 was no exception.

We’ve contributed to helping the Syrian refugee crises in a number of ways, including cash and in-kind donations, and through livelihood programmes as well as other expertise. And after the floods in Nepal and Tropical Storm Imelda in the US, we distributed sanitation and hygiene products to support the affected communities. We also supported relief efforts across Australia amid the widescale bushfires. Our Australia-based employees who are volunteering as first responders are being offered extra paid leave, and we’re working in partnership with the NGO Foodbank, to distribute hygiene and food products to those affected.

We know that we can maximise our assistance by working through partnerships focused on resilience, relief and rehabilitation, and we’ve also created partnerships that provide immediate help. Since 2017, for example, we’ve partnered with global humanitarian aid organisation Direct Relief to help people get 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.

So far, Direct Relief has distributed over 800,000 kits in response to a number of emergencies in over 35 countries.

Spotlight

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.

Around 82% of frontline health workers supporting people in crisis said that petroleum jelly would help them treat skin ailments better.7 We’re raising awareness and funds through our Vaseline skin products. The Vaseline® Healing Project channels our support through the international relief organisation, Direct Relief.

Since 2015, the Vaseline Healing Project has helped to heal the skin of over 5 million people across 79 countries, through donations of Vaseline products, as well as through relief missions to provide dermatological care and training for local health workers.

Over the last five years, the Vaseline Healing Project has provided training to 1,956 healthcare professionals and diagnosis and treatment to 17,051 individuals in 12 countries. In 2019, volunteer dermatologists provided free diagnoses and care to more than 7,400 people who would not have had access to such treatment otherwise. Volunteer dermatologists also trained 603 healthcare professionals in Indonesia, Peru, Nigeria and South Africa, enabling them to diagnose and treat common dermatological conditions.

In addition, the Vaseline Healing Project enabled Direct Relief to provide millions of Vaseline products at no charge to the many frontline healthcare partners Direct Relief supports – bringing comfort to people living in poverty, who fled their homes and are refugees, or who were affected by natural disasters. In 2019, we supported communities in the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian and in California during the wildfires. We also helped communities in Mozambique following Cyclone Idai.

This work contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Good Health and Wellbeing)
  • Partnership For The Goals)

Displaced but not forgotten - supporting refugees’ rehabilitation needs

Those impacted by disasters and emergencies often need long-term support to rebuild their lives. So, as well as providing immediate relief, we use 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, for example, we partnered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and supermarket chain Carrefour to help vulnerable people during the cold winter months. Through our Smile with Us campaign, we raised awareness of the refugee crisis in retail stores. We donated a portion of the proceeds from our product sales to provide families with essential everyday items. This campaign meant we could support hundreds of refugee families, while unlocking business growth and consumer engagement.

In Jordan, we’re also working with the UN’s Development Programme (UNDP) on the Baqala initiative. This develops selling and merchandising skills among Syrian refugees through three months of on-the-job training and internship at Unilever. And in the UK, we worked with the charity Transitions to find refugees to fill two work positions in our team – one refugee from Yemen and one from Syria now work with us as social and data analysts.

In Turkey, we’ve developed a reverse mentoring scheme with ideas platform, Xynteo. The ‘Embark’ partnership connects talented young Syrians in Istanbul with business leaders across Unilever Turkey to build refugees’ personal and professional networks. In return, we get insights into where young people see culture, technology and business heading. The first pilot took place in 2018 and matched 13 Syrian applicants with 16 senior Unilever employees. We’re now running this in collaboration with Mastercard and have already started a second group with 17 participants, with a third cohort scheduled to start in March 2020 with a further 20 participants.

Through Ben & Jerry’s, we have partnered with The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network (TERN) to create the Ice Cream Entrepreneurs (ICE) Academy. Launched in 2017, this employment and entrepreneurship programme aims to help refugees better integrate into society and access economic opportunities. Refugees are given training to develop their own business, alongside short-term jobs with our Ben & Jerry’s brand. So far, ICE has supported 127 refugees across the UK, Netherlands, France and Germany. Around 96% of graduates have found work, started their own business or are participating in a further stage incubator programme.

Spotlight

Man giving presentation about Mum's Magic Hands programme

Mum’s magic hands guide the way in emergency settings

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. This goes beyond simple product donation, seeking to impact behaviours in settings where crowding and diarrhoeal disease are high.

Every situation is different, so we spoke to women who were affected 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 reaches mothers and is based on universal insights that can work even 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 children against all odds. 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 was piloted among mothers across earthquake-affected areas in Nepal. It significantly impacted handwashing with soap after going to the toilet, with 45% more mothers observed washing their hands with soap.8 It also showed significant increases in handwashing with soap before eating and preparing food (18% and 17% respectively). Lifebuoy and The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) are also jointly running this programme in Syrian settlements in Lebanon and aim to reach 10,000 Syrian Refugee families, teaching them about the importance of using soap at key occasions.

Lifebuoy has now created a repeatable model for Mum’s Magic Hands and the programme has been used in over ten emergencies.

This work contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Good Health and Wellbeing)
  • Clean Water and Sanitation)
  • Partnership For The Goals)

Advocating for refugees’ right to rebuild their lives

It’s important that refugees are given the right support and opportunities to rebuild their lives. Central to this is the right to work, enabling them to fully contribute to society. We use our voice as a business to increase understanding of the refugee crisis, engage the private sector and champion policies that support the rights of refugees.

Our Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand has long supported the rights of refugees. In December 2019, the first ever Global Refugee Forum (GRF) was hosted by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, and the Swiss government, with the aim of strengthening the collective response for displaced people to find safety and rebuild their lives. At the GRF, Ben & Jerry’s pledged to grow its Ice Academy refugee entrepreneurship programme to at least 400 graduates by 2022.

Ben & Jerry’s also launched a new flavour, Cone Together at GRF. A portion of the proceeds from each Cone Together tub will go towards three of Ben & Jerry’s’ partner NGOs, Refugee Action, Red Acoge and Sea Watch, who are working to protect and advance the rights of those seeking asylum. This builds on Ben & Jerry’s ongoing partnership with Refugee Action as part of the Lift the Ban coalition. This involves over 150 organisations, including grassroots groups, NGOs, think tanks and social enterprises, who are calling on the UK government to give refugees the right to work.

In 2019, we continued to play an active role in the Tent Partnership for Refugees. This is a coalition of more than 100 companies making efforts to support refugees’ right to work around the world. It offers a platform for companies to share information and best practices, and increase private sector coordination.

The coalition also helps to forge innovative solutions to deliver greater impact in response to the global refugee crisis. In Malaysia, for example, we’re working with Tent, the UNHCR and other business leaders to call on the government to give refugees the right to work.

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 UNHCR, June 2019: https://www.unhcr.org/uk/figures-at-a-glance.html

4 UNHCR, June 2019: https://www.unhcr.org/uk/figures-at-a-glance.html

5 Christian Aid, December 2019: https://mediacentre.christianaid.org.uk/strongnew-report-2019-saw-world-counting-the-cost-of-climate-breakdown-strong/; Munich RE, 2019: https://www.munichre.com/topics-online/en/climate-change-and-natural-disasters/natural-disasters/the-natural-disasters-of-2018-in-figures.html

6 UN, December 2019: https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/12/1052731

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

8 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.

Back to top

Connect with us

We're always looking to connect with those who share an interest in a sustainable future.

Contact us

Get in touch with Unilever and specialist teams in our headquarters, or find contacts around the world.

Contact us