Unilever’s ambitious new plan for fighting social inequity includes more diverse advertising

Unilever’s ambitious new plan for fighting social inequity includes more diverse advertising

Dive Brief:

  • Unilever published a wide-ranging plan for fighting two issues it views as the biggest threats to society, climate change and social inequality, per a press release.
  • The consumer goods giant will prioritize three areas: working with external partners who provide their employees a living wage, significantly increasing spending on suppliers owned or operated by people from underrepresented groups, and upskilling its own workforce. Unilever also pledged to feature more diverse groups in its advertising, both in front of the camera and on the production end.
  • Efforts to usher in greater inclusion come as Unilever is preparing a review to its international media-buying business, Campaign reported, citing unnamed industry sources. The news suggests that Unilever’s marketing operations could see a significant shake up in tandem with the broader cause-driven corporate initiatives.

Dive Insight:

Unilever has released an ambitious set of goals to raise its internal diversity and inclusion (D&I) standards and ensure that external partners are hitting similar benchmarks. The commitments could set the tone for the owner of brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Dove’s actions, including in marketing, for years to come.

Pledges to work with groups that give their employees a living wage arrive as the coronavirus pandemic has thrown economic inequality into stark relief, while other societal developments — namely mass protests for racial justice last summer — have placed diversity and inclusion center-stage for brands and the ways they market to consumers. Raising the federal minimum wage has also become a hot-button political issue in the U.S., one of U.K.-based Unilever’s largest markets.

“The past year has undoubtedly widened the social divide, and decisive and collective action is needed to build a society that helps to improve livelihoods, embraces diversity, nurtures talent, and offers opportunities for everyone,” said Unilever Chief Executive Alan Jope in a press statement. “Without a healthy society, there cannot be a healthy business.”

Unilever claims it already pays all of its employees “at least” a living wage, but the FMCG giant is now looking to ensure all of its goods and services providers do the same by 2030. On the D&I front, the company aims to direct more than $2 billion annually toward diverse suppliers by 2025, including small- and mid-sized businesses owned and operated by women, people with disabilities, LGBT people and people from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.

“We will increase the number of advertisements that include people from diverse groups, both on screen and behind the camera,” Unilever said. “We will help tackle the prevalence of stereotypes that are often perpetuated through advertising, and promote a more inclusive representation of people.”

It’s unclear how significantly Unilever’s plan will impact its work with agencies, but the Campaign report indicates that the company may be separately enacting a review of its media-buying operations that could realign its partnerships. A Unilever spokesperson told Campaign the company does not comment on speculation. The company had no comment to provide when contacted via a representative by Marketing Dive. 

Commitments around upskilling employees for the future of work could also affect Unilever’s marketing strategy. During a recent earnings call, CEO Jope stated that Unilever would invest in a “more manpower-intensive marketing world, where digital programs take more resources.”

Unilever’s benchmarks around equity and inclusion mirror those of some key competitors, such as Procter & Gamble. Last June, as the protest movement was at a peak, P&G’s brand chief Marc Pritchard released a four-point plan to dismantle racial inequality that included accelerating the company’s investments in third-party Black-owned and -operated media businesses, agencies and marketing suppliers, as well as achieving 40% multicultural representation internally in the U.S.

Labor and supply chain practices of major multinational CPG companies have come under fire recently, particularly in regards to the sourcing of palm oil. An Associated Press investigative report last year revealed women working on palm oil fields in countries like Malaysia and Thailand were subject to severe abuses, including rape, along with receiving poverty wages. The AP described Unilever as “one of the biggest palm oil buyers for consumer goods,” linking the ingredient to several top beauty brands.

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