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.
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.
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.
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.
Transformational change - Discover how we're driving transformational change by eliminating deforestation, championing sustainable agriculture and smallholder farmers, and improving water, sanitation and hygiene.
Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, Mobilising Collective Action: Summary of progress 2015
Annual Report and Accounts 2015