Addressing global issues at the World Economic Forum

At this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Unilever senior executives - Paul Polman (CEO), Keith Weed (Chief Marketing Officer), Alan Jope (President Personal Care), Pier Luigi Sigismondi (Chief Supply Chain Officer) and Jeff Seabright (Chief Sustainability Officer) - joined top political, civil society and business leaders to help shape the agenda on pressing global issues such as climate change, sustainable development and inclusive economic growth.

Sustainable development and climate change

With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September and a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) climate deal in December - 2015 presents a unique opportunity to create the global policy frameworks which will help steer the world towards a greener, more inclusive future. 

The sense of urgency generated by the diminishing time to influence these processes, was reflected in a WEF programme which saw significant priority given to discussions on sustainable development and climate change.

For Unilever, a key focus of the Forum was in emphasising the need to align the climate and development processes and agree ambitious, integrated agendas which would deliver the best outcomes for the planet and all of its people.

Secondly, Unilever’s delegates sought to highlight the role that the private sector can play in delivering progress on global challenges – such as deforestation, malnutrition and poor sanitation - by making investment decisions and developing business models which generate growth through meeting social and environmental needs.

The need for urgent action

Speaking on a panel with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and President of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim - Paul Polman stressed that the idea of a trade-off between economic growth and tackling climate risks and poverty was outdated. He added that a growing number of successful businesses, cities and countries had demonstrated that you can improve economic performance and livelihoods while lowering climate risks.

Polman urged people to take action within their own organisations to help deliver progress at scale, saying, “At the end of the day we are talking about a moral framework, we are talking about opportunities not for us, but for people who can’t be here – do you want to be the one that misses that opportunity?”

Alongside the World Bank, Unilever also launched the Public-Private Emergency Response Platform (PPERP) to help companies be better able to respond to urgent global crisis – such as the Ebola outbreak.  The panel seeks to leverage private sector resources, scale and networks to tackle humanitarian and emergency situations – by providing a clear access point for engagement.

Harnessing people power

Emphasis was also placed on the need to engage people “outside of the UN bubble” in the climate and development processes – in order to foster local ownership and enable people to hold their governments accountable for goal delivery. Keith Weed led discussions around using Unilever’s communications and marketing experience to support two initiatives launched at Davos – Live Earth and Global Citizen – which are looking to draw citizens into the SDG and UNFCCC processes through a series of global events and online activations.

Making sustainable living “normal” and accessible to millennials is also the key objective of Collectively – a new digital media channel which brings together companies, NGOs and young people to create and scale up sustainability solutions. Sponsored by more than 30 multinational companies including Unilever, Google, Facebook, Coca-Cola, Nike, M&S and BT, the idea for Collectively originally emerged from discussions at the WEF in 2014. This year’s Forum saw its official launch as a non-profit organisation.

Unilever Sustainable Living Plan

The Forum also provided an opportunity for senior leaders to reiterate our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan commitments around issues such as Women’s Empowerment; Water, Sanitation, Hygiene (WASH) and Nutrition; and Deforestation and Sustainable Agriculture.

Women’s empowerment

Highlights included the launch of the UN Women’s HeForShe IMPACT 10X10X10 pilot initiative that aims to engage governments, corporations and universities as instruments of change within some of the communities that most need to address deficiencies in gender equality.

“I am delighted to be a HeForShe IMPACT Champion,” said Paul. “I am passionate about this campaign, which is in line with Unilever’s ambition to empower five million women by 2020. As part of our commitment, we are promoting women’s rights, embedding the Women’s Empowerment Principles and creating initiatives with UN Women on gender equality, skills building and job opportunities.”

WASH and nutrition

Unilever also announced that it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with GAIN (Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition) to co-create a global Nutrition Intervention Programme (NIP) to tackle the direct and indirect causes of under-nutrition for farmers and workers in Unilever’s extended supply chain. This includes improving dietary diversity with a specific focus on women and improving basic hygiene based on the successful Lifebuoy hand washing model.

The GAIN programme reflects Unilever’s ambition to create holistic solutions which deliver significant improvements through tackling interlinked challenges – such as nutrition and hygiene.

Raising the profile of good hygiene as a cost-effective means of realising significant health gains was another key theme of Unilever’s interventions - with Alan Jope calling for the SDGs to include targets on universal access to safe drinking water, sanitation, hygiene and ending open defecation. He further stressed the need to breakdown “residual distrust” between different delivery partners – emphasising that the private sector, civil society and government need to work together with local communities to deliver sustainable solutions at scale.

Deforestation and sustainable agriculture

The importance of action-orientated partnership was reiterated in several sessions on sustainable agriculture – where Pier Luigi Sigismondi highlighted the solid progress Unilever has made in engaging smallholder farmers and creating sustainable supply chains for our agricultural raw materials. He also stressed the need to develop interlinked solutions which harness new technologies and agricultural practices to better enable people to live in balance with their environment. 

Here, he used the example of helping smallholders increase their yields and restore degraded land in order to prevent them having to cut down forests to sustain their livelihoods. He highlighted the success of the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) – which has seen governments - from both forest countries and developed nations – working alongside civil society and indigenous leaders to develop deforestation solutions which help those who both work and live on forested land.

Paul Polman and Jeff Seabright both spoke at Davos’ principal session on reducing tropical deforestation related to key agricultural commodities, which was also attended by Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway and Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator.

The session built on recent momentum created by the 2010 pledge by the members of the Consumer Goods Forum to rid their supply chains of deforestation by 2020 and the New York Declaration on Forests, where over 170 organisations came together at the UN Climate Summit to pledge to halve deforestation by 2020, end it by 2030 and restore 350 million hectares of degraded land.

The session succeeded in its aims of both deepening existing commitments, such as the 96% of globally traded palm oil now covered by no deforestation pledges, and broadening commitments to other forest-risk commodities in partnership with tropical forest countries.

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