Inclusive business

Businesses like ours can and should play an important role in generating wealth and jobs around the world, improving skills and offering access to markets.

Farmers weighing onions

As a result of our scale, we have a unique opportunity to include millions of people in our business, for example: smallholder farmers who may lack access to skills or markets; small-scale retailers who can earn a living by starting or expanding a business selling our products; and young entrepreneurs who may need training.

In this way, we can promote strong, healthy communities that work to respect rights. At the same time, this is an opportunity to expand the market for our products and make our business model more resilient in an uncertain world.

Our strategy

We contribute to economic well-being through employment, improving skills, and access to markets. Working in partnership helps us to magnify our impact, especially in developing and emerging markets.

Our supplier & distribution networks

Often it is low-income people in emerging markets who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, either directly or indirectly. According to the World Bank, supporting smallholder farming is the most effective way of stimulating economic development and reducing poverty.

We have mapped our supplier footprint and now have much more visibility of the small farms involved in our supply chain. We also know where interventions are already in place and where they are needed. Our networks across the world involve approximately 1.5 million smallholder farmers (SHFs), who support over 7 million people. In most cases we have an indirect business relationship with SHFs through our suppliers. We select key suppliers as part of our ‘Partner to Win’ programme, with whom we believe we can achieve mutual, sustainable growth through partnerships.

In 2015, the World Bank identified that globally rural women in developing countries currently account for 43% of the global agricultural labour force1. However, according to a study by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), female farmers are just as efficient as male farmers. If women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30 percent. Through understanding these global trends this means we focus on improving this access, recognising that empowering women also has a multiplier effect on lifting families and communities out of poverty.

Our distribution networks involve small-scale distributors and retailers, including young entrepreneurs. We aim to widen economic participation, helping to enhance their livelihoods as we grow our business.

Our approach

An inclusive approach makes sense for our business. It helps to secure essential supplies. It expands the markets for our products, and increases the resilience of our business model.

In 2014, we developed an ‘Enhancing Lives’ strategy for smallholder farmers, which aims to increase our positive social impact in the communities in which we operate. It is based on our Theory of Change and Intervention programme that promotes the:

  • Provision of equitable and reliable market access by making our value chains transparent and establishing long-term partnerships with our key suppliers.
  • Development of interventions that help smallholder farmers and their communities improve agricultural practices, business capabilities and life skills.
  • Strengthening of women's economic standing and supports changing farm dynamics to facilitate improvements in their position and well-being.
  • We will promote young agricultural entrepreneurs to make rural value chains more attractive for the generations to come.

We are also seeking to expand opportunities for small-scale retailers and young entrepreneurs in the distribution and retailing of our brands. Whether through small stores, distributors who travel from village to village or the vendors of our ice cream products, the distribution of our products provides opportunities for entrepreneurs - especially women - to join our value chain and share in the wealth. We will continue to grow these programmes as we grow our business.

We will also continue to work in industry and multi-stakeholder partnerships in order to maximise our impact.

Our commitment

By 2020, we will have a positive impact on the lives of 5.5 million people by improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, the incomes of small-scale retailers, and increasing the participation of young entrepreneurs in our value chain.

Progress to date

In partnership with others, over 2006-2015 we have enabled around 600,000 smallholder farmers and 1.8 million small-scale retailers to access initiatives which aimed to improve their agricultural practices or increase their sales.

Future challenges

Smallholders and their practices are diverse, which makes the task of measuring the impact of our interventions difficult. Our commitment to measuring real impact, therefore, will require additional insights and data.

Over 2013-14, we ran five pilots to test and refine our Smallholder Livelihoods Assessment tool. The first ones took place in 2013 in Kenya amongst the smallholder tea farmers who make up the Kenya Tea Development Agency, one of our strategic Partner to Win suppliers. We also ran pilots amongst vanilla farmers in Madagascar and with Indonesian black soy bean growers.

In 2015, we rolled out the Smallholder Livelihoods Assessment tool to a representative sample of smallholder farmers in our supply chain. We are now defining a plan to track the progress of our smallholders’ livelihoods following the interventions we have developed.

As we accelerate our sustainable sourcing programme, it is vital that we can determine exactly how much smallholder farmers are benefiting from this work if we are to drive future initiatives successfully.

1 Source: http://www.fao.org/docrep/013/am307e/am307e00.pdf (p.36)

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Downloads

Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, Mobilising Collective Action: Summary of progress 2015

Annual Report and Accounts 2015

Taking action

Our commitment focuses on improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, supporting small-scale retailers, and helping young entrepreneurs.

Livelihoods for smallholder farmers

Female smallholder farmer

Through our inclusive approach we aim to benefit hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers whilst securing our supply of sustainably grown crops.

Supporting small-scale retailers

Small-scale retailer

Many small businesses and individual sellers help us to distribute and sell our products. We are helping them boost their skills and incomes as we grow our business.

Helping young entrepreneurs

Young black soy smallholder farmer

We want to help more young people benefit from our business. We provide training to enable them to work in the agricultural sector, as well as in our brands’ distribution channels.

Creating and sharing wealth

Shakti entrepreneur

We believe business plays a vital role, generating equitable wealth and jobs around the world, transferring technology, and training and developing people.

Mapping our farmer programmes

Screenshot of Googlemap showing location of Unilever farmer programmes

Take a look at our map of smallholder farmer programmes across our supply network.

Targets & performance

As part of the Inclusive Business pillar of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we have set ambitious targets to create a positive impact on the lives of 5.5 million people.

Inclusive business

Our Commitment

By 2020, we will have a positive impact on the lives of 5.5 million people by improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, improving the incomes of small-scale retailers and increasing the participation of young entrepreneurs in our value chain.

Our Performance

In partnership with others, over 2006-2015 we enabled around 600,000 smallholder farmers and 1.8 million small-scale retailers to access initiatives which aimed to improve their agricultural practices or increase their sales.

Our Perspective

Through our commitment to sourcing sustainably – in particular cocoa, tea, vanilla and vegetables - we are strengthening smallholder farming. By working with our suppliers and partners, we have enabled around 600,000 smallholder farmers to access initiatives which aimed to improve their agricultural practices. We have found that helping smallholder farmers improve their practices and giving them access to better-quality seeds, training and fertilisers, means they can double or even triple their yields for the crop that is supported by the programme.

In 2015, the Unilever Foundation implemented a more holistic approach to amplify the impact of our programmes: it is now focusing on nutrition, women and finance and looking to encourage young agricultural entrepreneurs and sustainable agriculture. Three new partnerships illustrate this approach: the Enhanced Livelihoods Investment Initiative; our Nutrition Intervention Programme; and the Enhanced Livelihoods Fund. These complement our 2014 partnership with Solidaridad to improve the lives of a million people in agriculture.

We continue to expand existing programmes such as Perfect Store, through which we have enabled around 1.8 million small-scale retailers to access initiatives which aimed to increase their sales, and Perfect Village. We also reshaped and extended our ice cream mobile vending initiative, I am Walls. The revised initiative now aims to offer jobs to 100,000 people by 2020, helping our micro-entrepreneur vendors improve their livelihoods and helping us to reach more consumers and grow our business.

Other micro-entrepreneur distributor schemes continue to make an important contribution to our target, such as Shakti in India and Gbemiga in Nigeria.

  • Achieved: 0
  • On-plan: 4
  • Off-plan: 0
  • %of target achieved: 0

Our targets

Please see Independent Assurance for more details of our assurance programme across the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Improve livelihoods of smallholder farmers

  • Our goal is to engage with at least 500,000 smallholder farmers in our supply network. We will help them improve their agricultural practices and thus enable them to become more competitive. By doing so we will improve the quality of their livelihoods.

In partnership with our agricultural suppliers and other partners, by September 2015 we had enabled around 600,000 smallholder farmers to access initiatives which aimed to improve their agricultural practices. We plan to deepen this engagement to ensure it feeds through to a positive impact on their livelihoods.

Our Perspective

As well as enabling around 600,000 smallholder farmers to access initiatives which aimed to improve their agricultural practices, we have also mapped our smallholder farmer footprint to identify the major raw materials that we buy from them.

Partners help us reach more smallholders and in 2015 we agreed three new ones that the Unilever Foundation will also help support. In 2015, Unilever, Acumen and the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership launched the Enhanced Livelihoods Investment Initiative which aims to improve the livelihoods of as many as 60,000 smallholder farmers and impact the lives of around 300,000 people.

We set up a Nutrition Intervention Programme with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) which aims to reach 800,000 smallholders in our supply chain. And in partnership with Oxfam and the Ford Foundation, the Enhancing Livelihoods Fund will support supplier match-funded projects to improve the livelihoods of smallholders, workers and their communities.

“We have found that helping smallholder farmers improve their practices and giving them access to better-quality seeds, training and fertilisers, means they can double or even triple their yields per annum for the crop that is supported by the programme”

Livelihoods for smallholder farmers

Improve incomes of small-scale retailers

  • We will create and improve the incomes of 5 million small-scale retailers in our distribution network

New target 2014.

We have continued to add small-scale retailers to our sales network.

Our Perspective

We continue to add small independent retailers to our sales network, expanding our reach, particularly into rural communities.

Around 1.8 million small-scale retailers in our distribution network are accessing our Perfect Store initiative, which aims to increase their sales. Over 1 million of these small-scale retailers are in India.

We provide these retailers with opportunities to grow their business and bring our quality branded goods into mostly rural markets. Building on our Perfect Store programme, our Perfect Village initiative continues to grow, taking a holistic approach to the community, working with consumers and small retailers to improve health, hygiene and nutrition in the village.

Supporting small-scale retailers

Increase the participation of young entrepreneurs in our value chain

  • We will increase the participation of young entrepreneurs in our value chain.

We will train and enable young people to participate in the agricultural business sector globally and in the distribution channels of our brands to market.

New target 2014.

We reshaped our mobile ice cream vending programme for young people to open up more opportunities. In the agricultural sector, we piloted a project in Ghana with Source Trust to support young entrepreneurs.

Our Perspective

In 2015 we reshaped our existing mobile vending programme for ice cream into a new ‘I am Walls’ initiative. Its extended aim is to offer employment to 100,000 micro-entrepreneurs by 2020.

In agriculture, our partnership with Solidaridad (launched in 2014) aims to improve the lives of 1 million people in our extended supply chain: an important focus of the partnership will be on developing young entrepreneurs whilst supporting smallholders in better farm management practices. We piloted a project in Ghana in 2015 with Solidaridad and Source Trust to address financial and social literacy for youth in the cocoa-growing industry, developing both agricultural and entrepreneurial skills.

Helping young entrepreneurs

Key

  • Achieved
  • On-plan
  • Off-plan
  • Of target achieved
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