Enhancing livelihoods through partnerships across the value chain

Our partnerships aim to empower women and improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers as part of Unilever's wider purpose: making sustainable living commonplace.

Woman with tea leaves in India

At Unilever, we have set ourselves a big goal: by 2020, we will enhance the livelihoods of millions of people while growing our business. To achieve this, we want to create transformational change - meaning the fundamental changes to whole systems that are needed to really make a difference, both to the livelihoods of people around the world and to our prospects for growing sustainably as a business.

Our business is uniquely placed. From our suppliers, including the millions of smallholders and farmers who grow our ingredients, through the network of entrepreneurs and retailers who sell our products, to the billions of consumers who use them, the breadth and depth of our value chain gives us real opportunity to make a difference.

We know we cannot achieve our goals alone, therefore we work in partnerships with a wide range of public, non-governmental and private stakeholders. We harness the scale, expertise, and reach of our business to these partnerships to achieve change in key areas: empowering five million women throughout our value chain, and improving the livelihoods of 800,000 smallholder farmers; our work in building inclusive distribution models; and our contributions to education.

Empowering women throughout our value chain

Knorr vendor in a village

Empowering women is key to eradicating poverty and accelerating global development.

We are in a unique position to make a difference. Women play essential roles in our value chain – as growers, distributors and suppliers, as employees, leaders, and managers –and as our customers, of which more than 70% are women.

Our global partnerships aim to create a transformational difference for women and families globally, throughout the value chain, helping us achieve our goal while securing our supply chain, building our brands, and growing our business. We have a strategic partnership with UN Women, through which we implement programmes on the ground, advocate for policy changes, and create powerful campaigns to raise awareness and drive consumer engagement.

In 2014, we joined UN Women’s HeForShe campaign, which aims to secure the commitment of a billion men to support women’s empowerment and gender equality around the world. As a HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 Champion, we have joined 10 governments, 10 universities, and nine other companies to identify approaches to address gender inequality.

We also work with a wide range of other organisations in three key areas:

The three key areas

Enhancing access to skills and opportunities in our value chain

Our partnerships aim to enable women to gain greater knowledge and skills in business, finance, sanitation, hygiene, and other areas, so that they are better equipped to participate effectively in the economy. Opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship give women new sources of income, while we build stronger supply chains, distribution networks, and markets.

An example is a new innovative distribution model, developed in partnership with multiple partners aiming to enhance the livelihoods of women by improving their basic book-keeping and sales skills by selling our brands and other everyday products.

Recognising, reducing and redistributing unpaid domestic work

Across all societies, women bear greater responsibility for unpaid care than men, devoting 1 to 3 hours more a day to housework than men. This directly and negatively impacts women’s participation in the labour force. By recognizing and reducing unpaid care work, our partnerships aim to change attitudes that denote women and girls as care providers and undermine their rights, limit their opportunities, capabilities and choices, and impede their empowerment.

Several of our leading brands are engaged in programmes addressing these issues. Our household care brands have a key role to play in reducing the time spent on unpaid care work, given the burden that fetching water for domestic use and washing clothes places on many women. Programmes that reduce this burden free up women's time for paid work, education, community activities, and families.

Sunlight, for example, has programmes on the ground that will help reduce time spent on household chores – especially fetching water for domestic use. Sunlight partnered with Oxfam to establish two Water Centres in Nigeria, providing rural communities with sustainable water supplies. We are working to scale this programme up with another partner, international non-profit Technoserve.

Safety in the communities in which we operate

We support partnerships that aim at ending violence and discrimination against women, so they can be productive at work, transform their families and communities, and fuel their economies.

Up to 7 out of 10 women around the world are subject to some form of violence at some point in their lifetime - with long-term economic as well as social implications.

We developed a model to address Sexual Harassment, Child Protection, and Violence Prevention and Management in our tea plantations in Kenya: a programme focused on safety for women and girls, which has enabled greater engagement of our workers and the wider community. Building on our work in the Kericho tea plantations, we are working with UN Women to create a strong framework for preventing gender-based violence that can be implemented throughout our supply chains.

Improving the livelihoods of thousands of smallholders

Our business touches the lives of millions of people in agricultural communities, both through our brands and products, and through our supply chain. Our aim is to enhance the livelihoods of more than 800,000 smallholders in our supply chain through partnerships which focus on the themes of nutrition, women, WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene), and finance, as well as encouraging agricultural entrepreneurs and sustainable agriculture.

This approach aims to be holistic, and enables us to develop globally repeatable programmes which can be adapted to different countries and crops. Working with our smallholder farmers has a strong business as well as moral case - it drives economic development and helps us to meet our goals on sustainable and profitable growth.

Our strategy involves working with multiple partners to achieve impacts beyond our continuing work to improve agricultural practices. We work with many partners in this field, including Oxfam, Acumen, Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, the Ford Foundation, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit), PSI, the Rainforest Alliance, and national and local government agencies.

For example, we work with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) Partnership to improve the health and nutrition of smallholders and their families, with a specific focus on women and young children. This partnership aims to improve the nutrition and health of 2.5 million people in rural communities - which you can read about in our case study.

Case studies

Improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers through the ELII

The Enhanced Livelihoods Investment Initiative (ELII) aims to improve the livelihoods of up to 300,000 smallholder farmers and their communities in Africa, South Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. Read more.

Unilever, Acumen and the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, an initiative of the Clinton Foundation, launched ELII as a landmark Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action, designed to be a three-year, $10 million investment initiative to catalyse economic growth and alleviate poverty among low-income communities in the developing world, while creating more inclusive and sustainable value chains.

One of the primary goals of the partnership, which leverages Acumen’s and the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership’s market-based approaches to poverty alleviation, will be to create and scale up privately-held enterprises which support smallholder farmers, and link them to Unilever’s global supply chains and distribution networks.

The first ELII investment was assigned to BURN, an Acumen investee producing cookstoves with a commercial business model built around saving lives and forests. The cookstoves will help smallholder farmers, especially women by reducing their exposure to cooking smoke, and help them save time and money on fuel collection and purchases.

Find out more here: https://www.unilever.com/news/press-releases/2015/Unilever-and-Acumen-announce-investment-to-bring-cleaner-more-affordable-cook-stoves.html

Unilever’s Enhancing Livelihoods Fund

The Enhancing Livelihoods Fund, a partnership between Unilever, Oxfam and the Ford Foundation, has been formed to support supplier match-funded projects and interventions to improve the livelihoods of smallholders, workers and their communities.

The Fund provides a mix of loans, guarantees, and grants intended to incentivise investment in new processes – ones which have a social impact, while improving agricultural practices and crop yields.

The Fund has invested in transforming vegetable farming in our supply chain in India, accelerating the adoption of good agricultural practices, using mobile technology to harness local expertise, and dramatically improving training for smallholders with the aim of improving yields. The project ensures training is accessible for female farmers and aims to improve the livelihoods of 20,000 smallholders and labourers, which will bring benefits to between 100,000 and 120,000 people altogether.

KNORR – GIZ and IFAD training farmers in Nigeria

Harnessing the scale and reach of our brands to the expertise of partners is an important part of our partnership approach. To help smallholder farmers become part of a sustainable supply chain in Nigeria, our largest food brand Knorr is working with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) to train local Cassava farmers in sustainable agriculture practices and equip them with the skills they need.

The Nutrition Intervention Programme - enhancing nutrition and hygiene for smallholders

The Nutrition Intervention Programme (NIP), which we have jointly developed with GAIN, aims to improve the dietary diversity and health of Unilever’s smallholder farmers and their families, with a specific focus on female farmers, pregnant women and young children.

In 2015, Unilever and GAIN signed a Memorandum of Understanding at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, establishing NIP, which will also contribute to improving health through hand washing, based on Unilever’s successful Lifebuoy model. The first programme, in India, aims to improve the nutrition and health of more than 20,000 farming families (100,000 people) in Unilever´s food supply chain. Interventions will include better information on nutritious diets, increased access to vegetables and livestock, and cultivating their own nutrient-rich home gardens.

Read more here: Improving health and nutrition for 2.5 million farmers

Inclusive distribution models

Our distribution networks are a vital part of our value chain, bringing our products to consumers. They give us an important opportunity to enhance livelihoods and drive economic growth, because they involve many small-scale distributors and retailers, including young entrepreneurs.

We aim to widen economic participation by improving the incomes of five million small-scale retailers in our distribution network, and partnerships are essential to achieve this. In many cases, we are targeting women specifically, as we know that empowering women often brings associated benefits to the wider community as well as individuals.

A great example is our Shakti programme, through which we train women in rural India to become our sales agents, and we aim to build on the success of this model through partnerships in other countries.

In Nigeria we have enhanced the Shakti model by combining the sales model with consumer behavioural change programmes– for example Lifebuoy's campaign encouraging people to wash their hands at key points during the day to promote good hygiene or Knorr promoting nutritious cooking. This is an initiative of the “Amsterdam Initiative against malnutrition (AIM)” supported by the Dutch government and in partnership with GAIN, PSI, BOP Innovation Center and local Nigerian partners.

An example is our 'Transform' partnership. It is the first initiative to be launched since Unilever and DFID committed to working together to help the world’s poor in 2014 – the first partnership of its kind between a leading international business and DFID. The Clinton Guistra Enterprise Partnership is a partner in `Transform` bringing its expertise in last-mile distribution to ensure connection to the businesses on the ground. Together, new innovative distribution model are developed which help women in Nigeria improve their basic book-keeping and sales skills by selling our brands and other everyday products.

Mother reading health literature

Another approach to an inclusive business model is Sunlight Villages – a partnership between Unilever, PSI and its local affiliate Society for Family Health (SFH). We are partnering to improve the health and well-being of rural populations in Nigeria.

The project aims to improve the health and well-being of rural communities whilst creating market development opportunities for 'good for you' products. SFH will promote the health benefits combined with behavioural change communication on nutrition, hygiene, and oral care through our brands, Knorr, Blueband, Lifebuoy and Pepsodent. It delivers through direct household interaction with over 600,000 mothers of childbearing age.

Transforming lives through education

A good education has the power to help transform people’s lives economically as well as academically - by reducing poverty, increasing income, and laying the foundation for economic growth. We engage in partnerships to help provide the quality education that too many children lack: there are currently 58 million children of primary age who do not go to school, while an estimated 130 million children will reach grade four, but will fail to learn the basic literacy, maths, and social skills they need to achieve their full potential.

Our laundry brand Dirt is Good works in partnership with UNICEF to give children access to quality education through the Learning for Tomorrow Initiative. We are helping 10 million children in Brazil, India and Vietnam to gain access to learning opportunities, by supporting new infrastructure to track the number of children not attending school; training teachers; enhancing education standards; and creating campaigns designed to increase demand for good quality education.

Learn more about OMO's initiative.

Key facts and challenges

  • The world’s population is predicted to reach 9 billion by 20501.
  • 805 million people still suffer hunger (1 in 9 people).2
  • Farm yields could increase by 20-30% and developing world agricultural production 2.5-4% if women farmers were given the same resources as men, reducing hunger by 100-150 million3.
  • 85% of the world’s farmers are smallholders and they produce 70% of the world’s food4.
  • Women produce 50% of the world’s food, but own only 1% of the world’s property5.
  • Whilst women do 66% of the world’s work, they earn only 10% of the income and account for 70% of people in poverty6.
  • 58 million children of primary school age do not receive a school education7.
  • 443 million school days are lost each year through lack of safe water, sanitation and hygiene8.

Our global partnerships in action

  • 5 million: the number of women we aim to help empower by 2020
  • 800,000: smallholders whose livelihoods we aim to improve.
  • 10 million: the children in Brazil, India and Vietnam we are helping to gain access to learning opportunities.
  • By 2020 we will source 100% of our agricultural raw materials sustainably.
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