Toilets of tomorrow

We are promoting better sanitation habits and helping people gain improved access to a toilet.

The sanitation crisis

Paul Polman announcing new Sanitation target (shown at Global Citizen Festival, NYC, September 2014)

Sanitation is recognised as a fundamental human right, the deprivation of which affects the social, physical and economic well-being of societies worldwide. A staggering 2.4 billion people – one third of the world’s population – are without access to a clean, safe toilet. Of these, 946 million people continue to defecate in the open1. There are still many countries in the world where less than half the population has access to adequate sanitation facilities. This is not acceptable when almost 1,000 children die every day of diarrhoeal diseases due to poor sanitation.

In September 2015, heads of state from all around the world gathered in New York to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This is an ambitious ‘plan of action for people, planet and prosperity’, with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Included within these is a dedicated goal on water and sanitation (SDG 6), which sets out to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”.

Our approach

We recognise the importance of a holistic approach to the interconnected issues of poor hygiene, lack of safe drinking water and poor sanitation. We believe we are uniquely placed to play an active role in addressing the sanitation crisis with our global reach, innovation, marketing and behaviour change expertise, distribution networks, and our Household Care brands including Domestos.

Our approach to sanitation includes advocacy (for example, through the Toilet Board Coalition and World Toilet Day), partnerships (such as Domestos and UNICEF), and market-based models (such as our Toilet Academies). See Making a difference with our brands & partners for more on UNICEF and our Toilet Academies. We have also signed the WBCSD WASH Pledge to ensure Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in all our factories, plantations and workplaces.

In 2014, we committed to helping 25 million people gain improved access to a toilet by 2020. By helping people access a toilet, and by promoting the benefits of using clean toilets, we will also open new markets, drive demand for our products, and foster innovation, research and development. As Analia Mendez, our Global Director of Social Mission Expertise in Home Care, says: “Sanitation affects every aspect of people’s lives. It’s a complex challenge which affects many other Unilever priorities, including nutrition, women’s empowerment and the environment. For example, healthy nutrition and clean toilets are two sides of the same coin when it comes to protecting the world’s poorest children from life-threatening diseases.”

While our sanitation efforts focus on developing countries, in developed countries, our household cleaners such as Domestos and Glorix/Lysoform, also play an important role in preventing the spread of transmissible disease. With the increase of antibiotic resistance, the increasing number of at-risk groups in the community, and the onset of new and emerging diseases, the need for home hygiene has never been greater, particularly in kitchens and bathrooms.

Toilet Board Coalition tackles sanitation crisis

Improving sanitation on a large scale in developing countries depends on co-operation between the private sector, governments and civil society, with shared goals and a willingness to pool resources. That is why we have united businesses, NGOs, academics and social entrepreneurs to establish the Toilet Board Coalition.

Announced on World Toilet Day (WTD) 2014, the Coalition aims to develop commercially-scalable sanitation models. Members have created four reports, which map leading sanitation models, identify success factors, assess demand-creation propositions, and explore future models and technologies.

The next step for the Coalition is to scale up urban and rural sanitation models in Africa and South East Asia.

A global voice for sanitation

WTD 2014 came at an important time - the final year before the setting of the Sustainable Development Goals that succeeded the Millennium Development Goals. This presented an opportunity to reinforce the importance of a dedicated goal on water and sanitation. We worked with our partners on global WTD events at the UN and European Parliament, as well as local events in 20 countries. The interventions also reinforced the role of the private sector in supporting such goals.

During WTD 2015 Domestos focused on the impact of inadequate sanitation on children’s attendance at school. Each year, 443 million sick days are taken by children in the developing world, all due to unsanitary toilet conditions2. Our No More Sick Days film was released in the UK, Philippines, Australia, Russia and Ukraine.

The Domestos ‘see-through loo’ (toilet) also featured in WTD 2015. Launched at the Global Citizen Festival in New York in September 2015, we used the see-through loo to invite celebrities and international policy makers alike to see what it feels like to use the toilet out in the open.

World Toilet Day recognised by the UN

Domestos, our leading toilet hygiene brand, has sponsored World Toilet Day since 2009 to raise awareness of toilet sanitation and help improve conditions worldwide.

In 2013, we developed the advocacy report, We Can’t Wait, with WaterAid and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC). This examined the plight of women in the sanitation crisis, showing that women are often the most vulnerable. Poor sanitation can impact girls’ attendance at school, increase women’s burden of work, leave females at risk of assault and lead to sanitation related diseases. One in three women worldwide risks shame, disease, harassment and even attack because they have nowhere safe to go to the toilet.

Using this report, for the first time Domestos brought together all those campaigning for sanitation by creating an umbrella theme for World Toilet Day (WTD) 2013 – We Can’t Wait (which continued into 2014 and 2015). Following efforts by the Singaporean Mission, Unilever, the World Toilet Organization and our partners, in 2013 UN member states voted unanimously to designate 19 November as the UN’s official World Toilet Day.

1 WHO/UNICEF JMP, Update on drinking water and sanitation, 2015

2 Source: Estimated with data from Diarrhoea: Why children are still dying and what can be done. UNICEF, WHO 2009

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