Health & hygiene

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Good Health and Wellbeing
  • Clean Water and Sanitation
  • Partnership For The Goals
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Toilets for a better tomorrow

We’re taking action against poor sanitation to free millions of people from indignity and disease.

Toilets at school

Tackling the sanitation crisis

One in three people in the world are in danger of sickness and disease because they don’t have access to a clean, safe toilet. Shockingly, every two minutes a child under five dies from a disease linked to unsafe water and poor sanitation1 and around 892 million people are still forced to defecate in the open.2 This is often hardest on women and girls who risk shame, harassment and even violence, just by going to the toilet.

But many of these deaths can be prevented with clean toilets, handwashing and safe drinking water. We believe that access to sanitation is a basic human right. According to the UN, six in ten people globally still don’t have access to safely managed sanitation facilities. Clean, safe toilets can free people from a life of disease and indignity.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) is the focus of UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: ensuring access to water and sanitation for all. We’re contributing to SDG 6 – specifically target 6.2 around achieving adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all – through the power of our leading toilet hygiene brand, Domestos.

Domestos and UNICEF – an unstoppable partnership

Clean toilet
16.5m

Domestos and UNICEF have helped 16.5 million people gain improved access to a toilet

Since setting our sanitation target in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan in 2014, we’ve partnered with global children’s organisation UNICEF. When people buy a specially-marked bottle of Domestos, they don’t just buy unbeatable germ-kill for their home, 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 are donating 5% of proceeds to UNICEF’s sanitation improvement programmes. Domestos and UNICEF have already helped 16.5 million people gain improved access to a toilet.3

Starting in the classroom

Clean, safe toilets have the potential to transform sanitation and health for millions of people. We support government efforts to build more toilets and we’ve helped build over 220,000 toilets in India. However, we’ve seen that just because people have a toilet, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will use it. The toilets may not function, and they may not be maintained or hygienic. That’s why our main focus is on encouraging people to use toilets where they are available and to keep them clean to prevent disease, particularly in schools.

So as part of Domestos’ partnership with UNICEF, we are supporting communities in India to become free of open defecation and also supporting sanitation education in schools through the School-Led Total Sanitation programme.

Domestos is also working with other NGO partners and agencies to run school programmes in eight countries in Asia, Africa, South America and Eastern Europe. Together we’re improving toilet facilities in schools and providing education about healthy sanitation and hygiene habits.

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Cleaner Toilets, Brighter Futures

Two-thirds of the developing world’s schools don’t have a useable toilet. This affects more than 620 million children. Our vision is for every school child to take a clean, safe toilet for granted. We believe it is a right not a privilege – and we’re on a mission to help schools get their toilets clean and keep them clean.

So far, our Cleaner Toilets, Brighter Futures programme in schools has helped 644 schools – 33,000 children – achieve cleaner, safer toilets. We work with janitors, teachers and children so that once toilets are clean and useable, they can be kept that way. In schools where Cleaner Toilets, Brighter Futures has been implemented, children visit the toilets 25% more, enabling them to concentrate more on schoolwork.

Domestos is working in schools around the world, focussing on improving the operation and maintenance of school toilets by embedding behaviour change. The programme, which is based on a pilot study conducted in the Philippines, has been developed in alignment with UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 guidelines and practices and with support from public health experts, academics, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Diseases, and German development agency GIZ.

This work contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

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

Sanitation surprises & shifting perceptions


Simran Gill

Simran Gill, Global Assistant Brand Manager, Domestos, visited numerous schools in Turkey, Poland, Russia, Greece and Vietnam to see firsthand how Domestos can help.

“You would not blame a person for thinking that poor sanitation in schools is strictly a developing world problem.

My experiences at Vietnamese schools in rural Mae Kong Delta highlighted the challenges that schools in this region faced when it comes to toilets. They were dirty, falling into disrepair and extremely unpleasant to use. Domestos, which is known as Vim in Vietnam, has been working with schools to improve these conditions. But it has been with a heavy reliance on costly renovations as schools are strapped for cash due to governmental budget restrictions.

What I found surprising was that this issue was closer to home than I anticipated. My visits to countries that most would consider developed, shocked me. Schools across Turkey, Poland, Greece and Russia are also battling poor sanitation. Not to the extent of Vietnamese schools, but enough for children to avoid using toilets and enough for schools in these countries to repeatedly ask for Domestos’s for help.

Since the economic crisis of 2008, many countries, including Russia and Turkey, have seen a tightening of budgets. When faced with the decision of whether to reduce the money spent learning resources for example, or cleaning and maintenance, it isn’t surprising that schools choose the latter. A clean and safe toilet is a right that should be available to all children in all schools. The need for long-term sustainable solutions is vital.

My visits to these diverse countries have strengthened my opinion that school sanitation can easily deteriorate in the face of adversity and that it’s one of the first things that fall below standard when the right provisions are not available. To that end, I am firmly of the belief that simple behavioural interventions at the school-level can help janitors, teachers and governors manage the situation better. That is why the Cleaner Toilets, Brighter Futures programme can make a real impact and improve the lives of millions. No child should have their future impeded by poor sanitation.”

Cultivating clean habits

Building toilets, while crucial, is not enough. We also need to change how people think and feel about having a toilet or access to a toilet, as well as teach them how to keep a toilet clean so they feel comfortable using it.

In partnership with Population Services International (PSI), a non-profit that promotes healthy living, in 2018 we continued our Creating Sustainable Sanitation Markets behaviour change programme. This is being piloted across 400 villages in the Chitoor district in Andhra Pradesh, India. Together, we aim to reach 40,000 households, helping them to be free of open defecation in the next two years.

We published a guide for those who want to promote the demand for – and use of – toilets in 2017. The Unilever Sanitation Behaviour Change Source Book (PDF | 11MB) offers a framework, ideas and tips. It provides insights and inspiration to help with the design, planning and implementation of behaviour change programmes. It builds on the Five Levers for Change we’ve established to help people develop healthy hygiene habits such as handwashing.

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Domestos logo

Clean habits, clean India

More than 3,000 employees at 25 of our factories in India are embracing a new role – as agents of change. The Swachhata Doots, as they are known (or ‘messengers of cleanliness’) educate and motivate their communities to adopt better WASH habits. Our volunteers have reached 7.5 million people in 2,600 villages since 2016 as part of our Swachh Aadat, Swachh Bharat (‘Clean Habits, Clean India’) programme.

Supported by local government, our programme has also partnered with the Society for Technology and Action for Rural Advancement (TARA). Together, we have created a 21 day Swachhata Curriculum for clean habits – 21 days being the recognised period for effective behaviour change.

Through the Social Transformation Mission involving businesses and the Maharashta Government, the Swachhata Curriculum has become part of the state school curriculum. This means it now benefits more than 120,000 children in rural India. Ten year-old Shweta Rangari is one of those children, or ‘Swachh Aadat Superheroes’. A student from Indrathana ZP school in Yavatmal, Shweta refused to go back to school until her father built her a toilet at home. Her father was so taken aback by the demand that he built a toilet within one week!

This work contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

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

Rethinking community hygiene

In some areas, people simply can’t afford a toilet of their own. But poorly maintained community facilities can put them at risk of disease.

Our pioneering Suvidha urban WASH Community Centre (PDF - 1.8MB) adopts a low-cost commercial model to support community hygiene. The Centre is the first of its kind in India. It offers flushing toilets, handwashing facilities with soap, and clean showers. It provides safe drinking water and state-of-the-art laundry operations on a pay-per-use basis, which are below market rates.

Situated in Azad Nagar, Ghatkopar, one of Mumbai’s largest slums, the Centre has reached over 1,500 people since it opened on World Toilet Day 2016. Suvidha (which means ‘facility’ in Hindi) was built with our partners, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and Pratha Samajik Sanstha, a non-profit community organisation.

TRANSFORMing access to toilets

We also support social enterprises in partnership with the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). We co-founded the TRANSFORM initiative in 2015, with an ambition to bring private sector creativity and commercial approaches to solve persistent global development challenges, including sanitation. TRANSFORM’s aim is to enable 100 million people in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia gain access to products and services that have been shown to improve health, livelihoods, the environment tor well-being by 2025. In January 2018, we expanded our joint commitment from £10 million to £40 million to scale up this partnership.

To date, TRANSFORM has supported 40 projects across 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, which have already benefited over 650,000 people. We are currently working with 12 WASH social enterprises in India, Bangladesh and Rwanda, where TRANSFORM has provided grant funding and tailored business support to help these enterprises scale-up their ideas. TRANSFORM is now building on the partnership’s early success by including the expertise and reach of additional partners to create impact on a larger scale and contribute to the SDGs.

Building the Sanitation Economy through the Toilet Board Coalition

Unilever was one of the founding members of the Toilet Board Coalition (TBC) in 2014. This brings together businesses, NGOs, sanitation experts and social entrepreneurs to see how a business-focused approach to sanitation can unlock long-term growth at scale.

Through the TBC’s Toilet Accelerator, Unilever employees (and other TBC members) mentor sanitation entrepreneurs to help them strengthen their businesses models so they are ready for investors.

The TBC is building the Sanitation Economy – a new marketplace for innovation, entrepreneurship and investment that nurtures pioneering business solutions to address one of the world’s most pressing crises, the lack of access to safe sanitation. The TBC aims to transform sanitation from being seen as an unaffordable public cost to an untapped business opportunity.

The Sanitation Economy comprises of the integration and enabling of three economies: The Toilet Economy, The Circular Sanitation Economy and The Smart Sanitation Economy. In India, the TBC is working with the Pune Municipal Corporation to apply Toilet Economy principles through water, materials, energy and data flows. By proving at city scale how integrating the Toilet Economy, The Circular Sanitation Economy and The Smart Sanitation Economy generate greater business and social value, more city authorities and investors will follow.

To build, integrate and scale up the Sanitation Economy, new partnerships and collaborations between businesses, investors and governments is needed. It’s only through collaboration that we will be able to end the lack of access to safe sanitation and achieve SDG target 6.2, access to adequate sanitation and hygiene for all.

Supporting sanitation entrepreneurs & social enterprises through the Toilet Board Coalition

We brought together businesses, NGOs, academics and social entrepreneurs to establish the Toilet Board Coalition in 2014. Its Toilet Accelerator helps small sanitation enterprises drive business growth and become sustainable in the long-term. Clean Team Ghana, for example, provides in-home toilets that don’t require plumbing. Twice a week, waste is collected and safely disposed of. With mentoring from Charlie Beevor, our VP Household Cleaning and Chairman of the Toilet Board Coalition, the business is growing. It aims to supply 10,000 households in Kumasi, the country’s second largest city.

Through the Toilet Board Coalition, we also supported a one-year programme in 2017, supporting Samagra, a social enterprise which refurbishes run-down community toilets in India and which received mentoring from our Domestos Global Brand Director. For a small monthly fee, Samagra enables families to use clean, safe toilets and other related services.

Sanitation companies in Africa are already beginning to turn this vision into reality. Sanitation economies are developing in Ghana, South Africa and Kenya, driven by companies with a clear vision. In Kenya, for example, we’re supporting sanitation social enterprises like Sanergy and Sanivation through the TRANSFORM partnership.

Protecting people helps us build our business

We know that investment in water and sanitation boosts the economy – every dollar invested yields $4.30 in increased productivity.4 We’ve seen that communicating Domestos’ brand purpose is good for raising awareness of the importance of sanitation. But it’s also good for business.

The growth of our Domestos brand is fuelling innovation, research and development to meet people’s needs. For example, we’ve developed new low-cost products, such as our Domex (Domestos in India) Toilet Cleaning Powder, for people in rural areas who may never have had a toilet at home before.

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Domestos logo

Innovation in India: Domex toilet cleaning powder

Millions of households in India are without a toilet, and the government wants 100 million new homes to have one by 2019. Most of these new homes will be for low income families, so they’ll need a low-cost solution to keep their toilets clean and hygienic.

Our Domex Toilet Cleaning Powder removes all germs at an affordable price. And our powder keeps toilets smelling fresh too.

We introduced Domex Toilet Cleaning Powder in the state of Andhra Pradesh in March 2017. Since then, we have also started selling this innovation in other states in South India. Through the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we are both helping more people to keep their toilet clean and driving business success.

In November 2018, Domex went further, taking on the huge challenge of addressing the current perceptions of whose responsibility it is to clean the toilet in our Pick Up The Brush campaign. This follows our Unstereotype initiative, which we launched in 2016 and has challenged our global brands to move away from traditional stereotypes.

The campaign enlisted influential Bollywood male actors Rana, Vankatesh and Nagarjuna, who asked their fans to copy their moves as they pick up the brush and throw out the shame of cleaning toilets, as well as the stereotype of this job being solely a woman’s responsibility.

This work contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Good Health and Wellbeing)
  • Clean Water and Sanitation)

Sustainable sanitation solutions

We continually seek innovations, and explore sustainable, commercial models so we can reach more people. We also assess the effectiveness of new WASH models. For example, in India we applied lifecycle assessments to evaluate the environmental impacts of scaling different sanitation solutions, considering several scenarios.

Initially, we focused on supporting government efforts to build more toilets, helping to build over 220,000 toilets. From 2014 through to June 2017, we ran the Domestos Toilet Academies (DTA) programme under the local brand name Domex. The Academies trained local entrepreneurs to sell, install and maintain clean and safe toilets. At the same time, the entrepreneurs educated people about the importance of sanitation and hygiene.

Since 2015, we have also worked with PSI – building on their existing partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – to implement DTA in Bihar, India. Through this partnership, the programme trained over 600 entrepreneurs, sold more than 214,000 household toilets, and reached nearly 1.2 million people. We also worked with micro-finance organisations to help poor families pay for a toilet. And we liaised with suppliers to help communities save money by buying materials in bulk.

WASH in the workplace

Nine out of ten jobs5 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, 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.

Clean, safe toilets are just one part of our wider WASH activities, which also include safe drinking water and handwashing.

1WaterAid

2World Health Organization

3 Results are reported by UNICEF in accordance with its methodology and includes reach from direct and indirect initiatives over 2012-2017; and also includes Clean Toilets, Brighter Futures reach of 33,000 children in 2018.

4World Health Organization

5WASH4Work

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