Back in March, shortly after the World Health Organization characterised Covid-19 as a pandemic, we introduced a wide-ranging set of measures to support global and national efforts to help tackle the spread of the virus.
We are contributing €100 million through donations of soap, sanitiser, bleach and food, as well as leveraging our procurement network to acquire much-needed medical equipment for organisations around the world.
We are also making available €500 million of cash flow relief for our most vulnerable small and medium-sized suppliers and small-scale retail customers whose businesses rely on Unilever.
In addition, we are working with the UK’s Department for International Development to fund a global programme that aims to reach up to a billion people, raising hygiene awareness and changing behaviour.
Here are just a few examples of how our efforts are making a difference around the world.
Africa: Ramping up supply and extending our medical facilities
We’re driving up soap production across Africa to address shortages of this core hygiene product. We’ve also teamed up with local suppliers to produce Lifebuoy hand sanitisers that we used to import from India. This is helping to meet a huge rise in consumer demand for a fast and effective way to reduce the risk of infection, especially for those who have to travel and work in Africa’s crowded cities and marketplaces where water for handwashing is often lacking.
We are also scaling up handwashing programmes throughout the continent. For example, in Ghana, we have extended the reach of our Lifebuoy handwashing programme by placing hygiene stations at bus terminals so people can wash their hands before and after travelling. The stations provide free soap alongside information about how to wash hands properly. As with all our handwashing programmes, we hope this will become a habit for everyone.
With over 60,000 workers and their dependents living in our tea estate villages in Kenya and Tanzania, we’ve worked with communities and authorities on safety protocols, upgraded our hospitals with extra ICU ventilators and built testing capacity. We’ve also got our schools and sports centres ready to convert to treatment centres, so we can isolate and treat patients if we face a major outbreak.
Our sales staff and factories are working hard to supply the hundreds of thousands of market traders, small distributors and local stores who rely on us for a living with the stock they need. These supplies are also essential for African consumers, most of whom can’t afford to buy in bulk and rely on local markets for regular supplies of essentials in small quantities.
Australia: Donating to food banks and helping the hospitality sector
In answer to government calls for businesses to use their manufacturing capabilities to help with the supply of protective products, we rapidly repurposed our deodorant production facility in New South Wales to bring Lifebuoy back to Australia and New Zealand with a new aerosol hand sanitiser. Around 150,000 of the new-format cans from the first production run were donated to Foodbank Australia.
With many businesses encouraging employees to adhere to social distancing, Australia’s food banks have lost out on support from several corporate volunteers who usually help package up food donations. We have provided funding to help the Foodbank charity employ paid casual workers to prepare the food parcels instead, ensuring these much-needed supplies can still be shared.
Our Food Solutions business has partnered with Yume, an online marketplace for surplus food, to launch Yume For Distributors. The idea is to help distributors who have been left with excess stock, due to the sudden closure of hospitality outlets, sell to others that are seeing a surge in demand. The partnership brings together Yume’s technology and our extensive industry knowledge.
Asia: Collaborating with UNICEF and connecting restaurants with diners
In India, we cut the prices of our handwash and floor cleaners while, at the same time, ramping up production. We’re collaborating with UNICEF on a mass communication campaign to inform the public about handwashing. And we’re part of a government initiative to convert small neighbourhood ‘Kirana’ stores into ‘Suraksha Stores’ (sanitised retail outlets) selling daily essentials. Read more about the steps we’re taking in India.
In Bangladesh, we’re working with BRAC, the world’s largest NGO, to raise awareness of personal hygiene, social distancing and respiratory etiquette, and to change behaviours in marginalised communities. We reached approximately 1 million people by initiating door-to-door dissemination of key messages to combat the virus and distributed 500,000 sachets of Lifebuoy handwash.
In Singapore, Unilever Foods Solutions partnered with marketplace platform Carousell to launch #SupportLocal, an initiative that enables 180,000 food and beverage businesses in South East Asia to connect with local diners. Through our Unilever International business, we are also distributing 14,000 care packages to 114 hawker centres. Hawkers play a key role in keeping Singapore running by providing good, affordable food.
In Myanmar, our Supply Chain team has, for the first time, used an almost fully dedicated train of the national rail system as a solution to the shortage of truck drivers and trucks during lockdown. This meant we were still able to transport finished products from our manufacturing plant in Mandalay to Yangon and serve the southern part of the country despite a lockdown.
Europe: Making ventilators and ensuring the vulnerable get help
In Germany, Austria and Switzerland, we launched the Corona Hotline, a freephone call centre staffed by Unilever employees that connects charities and volunteers with people in need. It’s aimed primarily at older people who aren’t able to access information online, and those with isolation or mobility challenges who struggle to find out what help is available locally.
In the Netherlands, we have donated food and hygiene products to food banks and other organisations as stockpiling has left them with a shortfall in regular donations. We’re also supporting catering entrepreneurs by backing the helpdehoreca.nl website. Here, people can buy vouchers to redeem later at a favourite café or restaurant, so owners receive much-needed income while closed.
In the UK & Ireland, we have donated £3.5 million worth of products so far to charities, food banks, hospitals and frontline workers. We have adapted production lines to make hand sanitiser which we’re donating to the NHS and joined a consortium making ventilators. We have also used our expertise in 3D printing and laser cutting technologies to produce protective visors for staff at local hospitals.
In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, our activities largely centre on supporting charities in our local communities, especially NGOs, homes for the elderly and food banks. Unilever Food Solutions and our Hellmann’s, Knorr and Lipton brands donated over 13 tons of products to national food banks and to a project that delivers meals to seniors and vulnerable single mothers in Prague.
South America: Supporting favela families and getting SMEs online
In Brazil, we’re working with brewing company Heineken to manufacture a special batch of Cif household cleaner. We’re producing a run of 270,000 bottles of the alcohol-based sanitiser to distribute to socially-disadvantaged families in São Paulo’s favelas. It is hoped the product will benefit around 2 million residents, helping them protect their homes against the spread of Covid-19.
In Argentina, we’re operating factories at maximum capacity to increase production of critical supplies such as soap, surface cleaner and bleach. We have adapted production lines to make alcohol gel and hand soap (as we have in Bolivia). And we’re using our marketing spend to promote prevention, responsible consumption messages and activities to do at home.
Also in Argentina, we’re supporting small businesses in our value chain. Banks are currently only open to pensioners, so we have moved many of our partners and suppliers from cash and cheque payments and trained them in electronic transfers. And we’re partnering with on-demand delivery companies, such as Rappi, to get essential products to consumers, particularly the elderly and vulnerable.
In Colombia, we started operations on the remaining three production lines at our new Palmira factory, ahead of schedule, to guarantee the supply of shampoo, conditioner and softener. This meant securing the necessary regulatory approvals virtually – something that would ordinarily be carried out through a site visit.
US: Feeding the needy and organising a day of service
In the US, the broad set of measures in our United for America initiative includes donations of food, soap, personal hygiene and home cleaning products to Feeding America, which supports a national network of 200 food banks. We also donated more than 200,000 face masks to hospitals to help protect the lives of healthcare professionals.
As part of this initiative, Hellmann’s set up a Food Relief Fund that will provide $1 million to feed frontline workers and people in need in New York City, the birthplace of the brand. Together with food delivery marketplace Grubhub, we have teamed up with local restaurants to provide individually-catered meals to healthcare workers at three of the city’s hospitals as the first phase of this initiative.
Additionally, Dove and Vaseline donated $2 million to Direct Relief to go towards Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), ventilators and medicines for healthcare workers on the front lines in the US.
We’re organising a Day of Service on 21 May to provide an additional $12 million of support for those in need. On this day, the equivalent value of every product we make in Unilever US factories will be donated, employees across the country will be invited to volunteer for the cause, and we will dedicate our ad and marketing spend to non-profits on the front lines. We hope many of our partners and peers will join us.
The main photo at the top of this article shows a Singapore Hawker with one of our care packages.