Unilever: it’s time to challenge our value chain on sustainable sourcing

Unilever's chief procurement officer Marc Engel has promised to be "relentless" in driving the company's efforts to reach its goal of sourcing 100% of raw materials sustainably by 2020.

In the lead up to the launch of the manufacturer’s 2012 Sustainability Report later this month, Engel said that cross-sector partnerships would be critical to “create real impact and move things forward at scale” on this front.

“We cannot move the needle alone,” he argued. “So bringing like-minded businesses, NGOs and governments together to drive this agenda is becoming increasingly important. And it’s starting to happen.”

Currently, Unilever’s sustainable sourcing figure stands at 36% – up from 24% in 2011. Engel said the company was “very proud” of the rate of acceleration in recent years, but that in continuing this momentum, it must look beyond its own environmental impact.

Part of Unilever’s work in this field centres around a global partnership established in 2011 to accelerate sustainable agricultural growth. Here it is working with 16 other brand leaders including Wal-mart, Nestlé and Kraft Foods to improve food security and environmental sustainability across the world.

“By transforming global supply chains together, we can move faster in creating critical mass and also increase awareness among consumers of the benefits of sustainably sourced products,” Engel maintained.

He added that the company needed to undergo “constant introspection” as the CSR bar was continuously being raised, particularly around social value.

“We see and support a shift from looking predominantly at avoiding the environmental ‘negatives’ to actively enabling positive social impact.

“And to drive this without doubt or confusion, we have explicitly included this in our company vision, which is to double the size of our business whilst reducing our environmental footprint and increasing our positive social impact.”

Here Engel touched on Unilever’s partnership with Netherlands-based Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) and the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) on co-funded farmer field schools.

Between 2007 and 2012, 450,000 smallholder tea farmers were trained to the Rainforest Alliance standard, in preparation for certification. Unilever, together with its partners has now agreed to invest a further €4m to scale up the initiative.

“This training has the potential to benefit not only farmers working with Unilever, but the tea industry as a whole,” he explained, adding that the next step was to provide financial literacy training, especially for women, to help direct higher income to be spent on improving livelihoods.

Maxine Perella

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