Scaling sanitation solutions for a better tomorrow
We’re fighting the dangers of poor sanitation by helping millions of people gain access to cleaner, safer toilets.
The sanitation crisis
Two in three people in the world are in danger of sickness and disease because they don’t have access to a clean, safe toilet.1 Shockingly, every two minutes a child under five dies from a disease linked to unsafe water and sanitation2 and around 892 million people are still forced to defecate in the open.3
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 World Health Organization, 2.3 billion 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 on achieving adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all – through the power of our leading toilet hygiene brand, Domestos.
In March 2020, we announced that we’re providing free soap, sanitiser, bleach and food to the value of €100 million to help tackle the coronavirus (COVID-19). 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 Domestos and Lifebuoy 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.
Achieving our target a year early – and surpassing it
By the end of 2019, we had helped over 28 million people gain improved access to a toilet4 & 5 – reaching and surpassing our 2020 target of 25 million people a year ahead of schedule.
We have worked in partnership with global children’s organisation UNICEF on sanitation issues since 2012. 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.
As well as our work with UNICEF, we rolled out the Cleaner Toilets, Brighter Futures programme in schools in 2018. We’re working with janitors, teachers and children so that once toilets are clean and usable, 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. So far, the programme in schools has helped 693 schools – more than 70,000 children – achieve cleaner, safer toilets.
This work contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goals
Over ten years of sanitation action: a brief history…
Our journey began by sponsoring World Toilet Day back in 2009 and lobbying for it to be a UN recognised day in 2012.
We began working with UNICEF on sanitation in 2012 – our longest running partnership focused on tackling sanitation issues. Over the last seven years, we have worked together on a range of initiatives, including promoting good hygiene practices, training and on sanitation programmes in schools.
One of the initial areas that we focused on was supporting government efforts to build more toilets, and we helped to build over 220,000 in India. From 2014 through to June 2017, we ran the Domestos Toilet Academies (DTA) programme under the local brand name Domex. Initially, this was in partnership with eKutir – a social enterprise for farming communities – and then we partnered with Population Services International (PSI), a non-profit that promotes healthy living – and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to implement DTA in Bihar, India.
Through this partnership, the programme trained over 600 entrepreneurs and reached nearly 1.2 million people. The programme 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. 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.
However, we’ve seen that just because people have a toilet doesn’t necessarily mean they will use it. What we’ve learnt over the years is that the issue goes much deeper than just infrastructure. Put simply, a toilet is only worthwhile for as long as it stays clean and usable. That’s why driving behaviour change, particularly on toilet maintenance, is the other and equally crucial part of the solution.
Co-founding the Toilet Board Coalition
In 2014 we started to explore how an integrated, business-led approach to increasing access to toilets could generate long-term business growth, and so incentivise private investment in sanitation infrastructure and maintenance. Given the multidisciplinary buy-in required by this novel approach to tackling the sanitation crisis, we co-founded the Toilet Board Coalition (TBC), a business-led partnership and platform with the ambition of accelerating the ‘sanitation economy’. In other words, creating business value from human waste by supporting a series of sanitation enterprises that have the potential to become self-sustaining by providing safe toilets to those who need it most.
The TBC 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. Over the last five years, the TBC has grown from 15 members to over 41 members. And the TBC’s Toilet Accelerator runs four accelerator cohorts, benefitting over 2.7 million people. It’s no longer just about building the toilets but instead about making the sites self-sustaining and changing behaviour through the use of communication and visual nudges.
Unilever employees (and other TBC members) mentor sanitation entrepreneurs to help them strengthen their businesses models so they can attract investment. For example, we provided mentoring and behaviour change expertise to social enterprise SJP. This is a mini-utility for low-income communities in Bangladesh, which provides piped water, solid waste collection and toilets. SJP used our Lifebuoy School of Five materials to run a behaviour change programme with children in schools. We gained insights too as the materials were adapted to make the stories and visuals relevant to children in those communities, with references to their surrounding environment.
The TBC has carried out four economic feasibility studies with the Ethical Tea Partnership for circular sanitation models on tea plantations in India, Kenya and Rwanda since 2018. We’ve been running studies for a green field site in Rwanda, and for fuel and compost applications in Kenya. We’ve learned that some of the alternative toilet designs that are now available (similar to container toilets) work well for tea workers and plantations. And reusing toilet resources as fuel or compost for example, not only helps the tea plantations but also means that the plantations fully recover the cost of installing toilets.
We work in partnership with social enterprise Saraplast through TBC and DFID. Saraplast creates public toilets in Pune, India, specifically for women and girls, who can face shame, harassment and even violence when they don’t have access to a clean, safe toilet. Semi-permanent toilets are constructed from old buses or shipping containers, making them easier, faster and cheaper to build. The initiative has been set up as a self-sustaining model using a pay-per-use fee. There are now ten Saraplast sites, which have been used over 80,000 times, and provide dignified employment for 11 women.
Building the sanitation economy
We’ve seen that communicating Domestos’s brand purpose is good for raising awareness of the importance of sanitation. But it’s also good for business. The Toilet Board Coalition is transforming sanitation from being seen as an unaffordable public cost to a huge untapped business opportunity. We know that investment in water and sanitation boosts the economy – every dollar invested yields $4.30 in increased productivity.6 In India alone, the sanitation economy was estimated to be worth US $32 billion in 2017 and is set to double by 2021.7
The sanitation economy comprises of the toilet economy, circular sanitation economy and smart sanitation economy. The TBC is working with the Pune Municipal Corporation in India to prove how these are all generating both greater business and social value, which we hope will encourage more city authorities and investors to participate.
Global businesses are facing growing public demands for sanitation solutions by governments, the inevitability of a rapidly increasing squeeze on and competition for scarce resources. There is also an increasing public intolerance for inequity when it comes to human health and dignity. The sanitation economy presents new solutions in all these areas.
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 and the environment for well-being by 2025.
TRANSFORM is currently supporting 45 projects across 11 countries, which have reached more than a million people so far. We’re 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.
We expanded our joint commitment from £10 million to £40 million to scale up this partnership in 2018. 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.
This work contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goals
Cultivating clean habits
During the first few years of working to tackle sanitation issues, we realised we needed to work in communities to change the way people feel about having a toilet or access to a toilet. And we needed to teach people how to keep a toilet clean so they feel comfortable using it.
In partnership with PSI, we developed our Creating Sustainable Sanitation Markets behaviour change programme. This was piloted across villages in the Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh, India, helping households to be free of open defecation.
We also published a guide for those who want to promote the demand for – and use of – toilets. The Unilever Sanitation Behaviour Change Source Book (PDF | 10.1 MB) 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.
It is essential that people can afford to maintain their household toilet, or the toilet that they have access to. The growth of our Domestos brand is fuelling 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.
Going back to the classroom to tackle toilets
With one in three schools around the world not having a usable toilet, Domestos recognised the need to change this and that the brand could help with developing a unilateral approach. A lack of toilets at school means distraction, discomfort and poor student health, or even children skipping class altogether. That’s why Domestos has been on an ‘unstoppable’ mission to help schools get clean safe toilets.
While education and behaviour change programmes about healthy sanitation and hygiene habits are very important, they are only part of the puzzle. Since we began working on school sanitation programmes over five years ago, we’ve found that children are – understandably – reluctant to use toilets if they aren’t clean. So we’ve since turned our focus towards improving toilet facilities in schools.
In 2016, we began working with the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and the Free University of Amsterdam to come up with a sustainable school sanitation programme. Previously, there had been lots of fragmented approaches, and a focus on children to drive the behaviour change needed within schools rather than on a school’s own governance. Research was conducted over 18 months and led to the creation of our Cleaner Toilets, Brighter Futures programme.
WASH in the workplace
Nine out of ten jobs8 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.
So, now that we have achieved our target, what’s next?
We want to continue scaling our programmes but to scale our programmes effectively and reach as many people as possible, we need to work in partnership – we cannot resolve sanitation issues alone. Over 700 children under the age of five die from a sanitation-related disease every single day.9 We must collaborate and combine a range of expertise to bring about the change that is so desperately needed. Until we have reduced that number to zero, we simply cannot rest and we will not rest.
Systemic change can only be achieved in partnership with governments. In 2019, we began a new partnership as a step towards doing just this; we began working with GIZ again, as well as the Philippines’ government, to drive a similar model to that of our Cleaner Toilets, Brighter Futures programme across the country and to also identify improvements to the model.
We will focus our efforts on engaging and partnering with national and local authorities and education boards around the world. We need to work together at scale to ensure that everyone has access to it. As UN Water notes, a toilet is not just a toilet, it’s an opportunity-maker, a dignity-provider, a lifesaver. Together, we all need to prioritise SDG 6 – and help make it a reality, not just a goal.
2 WaterAid: https://www.wateraid.org/facts-and-statistics
3 World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs392/en/
4 Results are reported by UNICEF in accordance with its methodology and includes reach from direct and indirect initiatives over 2012-2019; and also includes Clean Toilets, Brighter Futures reach of over 38,000 children over 2018-2019.
5 The Domestos reach reported in our Annual Report & Accounts 2019 was under reported and should say “Domestos has built on its partnership with UNICEF, which helped more than 28 million people (between 2012 and 2019) access better sanitation and hygiene”.
6 World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/economic/mdg10_offtrack.pdf
7 UN Global Compact, CEO Water Mandate, The Sanitation Economy in India, 2017:
8 WASH 4 Work: https://wash4work.org/
9 European Commission: https://ec.europa.eu/echo/what/humanitarian-aid/water-sanitation-hygiene_en