Unilever’s Keith Weed: Moving beyond corporate social responsibility

Keith Weed
Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Unilever
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One of the challenges we face each year in Davos is to keep a focus on long term global, regional and industry agendas in amidst the myriad short term issues around us and that the media invariably focus on. Of course ‘great transformations’, ‘shared values’ and sustainability initiatives don’t provide for sexy copy, as Gillian Tett emphasized in the FT debate on Tuesday night that I participated in.  But if we can’t take a step back here with such a broad group of leaders to look at different ways of doing business, then I’m not sure when we ever can. I am pleased to say the sessions I attended on Shared Values and also on Sustainable Consumption did exactly that.

Similarly, we had a fascinating discussion this morning on new ways of building global partnerships with NGOs and UN agencies to solve major social problems, as we announced the new Unilever Foundation today.  In a discussion with senior people from Unicef, Oxfam, PSI, Save the Children and the World Food Programme we explored how business can, in the words of PSI’s CEO Karl Hofmann ‘move out of CSR and into P&L’.  This is something Unilever has long explored ever since our William Hesketh Lever’s vision of ‘doing well by doing good’ in building Port Sunlight in the UK. So in addition to our stretching environmental and sustainable sourcing targets, Unilever is committed to helping a billion people improve their health and wellbeing by 2020; and as with so many other difficult challenges we can only achieve this in close partnership with others.

My view is that companies need to look at their own impact on society and the environment and build on their particular strengths to create a more sustainable world.  In Unilever’s case we are active in 180 countries, with over half of our sales in developing and emerging markets, and of course our core product range of essential items like ‘soap and soup’ means it is natural to focus on hygiene and nutrition.  For initiatives to really work, they need to move way beyond traditional, transactional CSR or philanthropy (we abolished our CSR department)  and link directly to cause related marketing for big global brands. You could call it moving from a .org to a .com relationship with NGO partners. So we are working with our core five partners in conjunction with our brands like Lifebuoy, Domestos, Pureit, Knorr and Walls, in a way that will help drive revenue for the brand as well as demonstrably do good work.

Keith Weed the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Unilever

Pictured: Unilever: 2011’s ‘five levers for change’ CSR campaign

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