Unilever Nepal Limited has celebrated its 25th anniversary. To commemorate the silver jubilee celebration, Unilever’s global CEO Paul Polman arrived in Nepal on September 5 accompanied by Executive Vice President of Unilever South Asia, Sanjiv Mehta. Polman has been leading the company since 2009 when he assumed the post of CEO in the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company. Regarded among the world’s top business leaders, he is well known for his approaches towards sustainable development. A proponent of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Polman has actively incorporated the factor of social responsibility in the business model of Unilever. Sanjiv Mehta is also the CEO and Managing Director of Hindustan Unilever Limited who is in the post since 2013. Having spent about 25 years in Unilever, he has led the company in different countries including Bangladesh, Philippines and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. In the UNL’s 25th anniversary event, Polman and Mehta encouragingly addressed the audience to inform about sustainable business practices of Unilever and shared the company’s vision to make them more inclusive and equitable.
“Unilever aims to help countries to achieve the SDGs”
Though this is my first visit to Nepal, I assure you that this will not be the last. Prior to the visit, I have read up a bit about the country and talked to the people who have been here. They strongly encouraged me to spend a week here or more and travel around and meet the people. After coming here, I came to know more about the history of the country that dates back to about 11,000 years. Nepal has seen some remarkable progress over the years. It is very simple that any system’s long term success is ensured only if it is inclusive, equitable and sustainable. It is the only a way to build one of the great nations in the world and hopefully to achieve the middle income countries by 2030. And, there are no reasons to why Nepal cannot achieve this very target.
We’ve all seen with sadness the devastating earthquake of 2015. We are well aware of the floods that are happening in the country’s southern parts right now and we have been seeing the same in the neighboring countries. If I read newspapers in the part of the world that I live, everybody is concentrated on flooding and devastation caused in US cities of Houston and Texas. However, if we see the other parts of the world, there are far more devastating effects because people in those countries haven’t got the opportunity to build the resilience. And they are paying the price, in this case climate change, because it has origins in different parts of the world.
If we want this world to function properly, it is necessary to keep the morality rate higher. Unfortunately, for most of the people, their personal greed has become more important than the future of their children and their grandchildren. With a history of 100 years, Unilever certainly wants to be around for another hundred years. Nonetheless, if we want to gain long-term success, there are basically few values that we need to adhere to, personally as well as business wise. The first one is respecting everybody. All people in the world have 99.99 percent things in common. Yet we continue to dwell on our differences in terms of increasingly nationalistic or isolating tendencies in some of the major countries. We need to respect individuals and the communities around us. It is very important to realise that by investing in others around us, we actually will be better off with ourselves as well. Greed might be good in business, but generosity is better. I have observed this in many cases during my visits to different parts of the world.
In 2016, Unilever went on to acquire the US-based green and natural household products maker Seventh Generation which produces items including laundry detergent and diapers. It was one of the few acquisitions we did with much due diligence. Seventh Generation’s philosophy is that its products are sustainable and will not affect the next generation. This has been a great opportunity for us to work with such a company with a farsighted philosophy.
In many cases, as Sanjeev said, many companies put themselves to their own service rather than the society. This is one of the reasons why the lifetime of companies is short. A company cannot just be a passerby in a system that gives them life in the first place and it cannot be just driven by the shareholders. There ought to be other purposes than just profit to be around the society and become sustainable. If the businesses do not have deeper purposes, why would people accept them to be in the first place?
For us, the best manifestation of this question is to leverage our brands. It is great to see the employment that we’ve been providing to rural women by making them part of Unilever product extension and our reach programmes. We have plans to provide opportunities to 2,000 to 4,000 rural women in Nepal by 2020.Unilever has been running the “Help a Child Reach 5 ” campaign to raise the level of awareness on hand washing habits with a goal to reduce deaths of children due to preventable infections. Similarly, one of our brands Vaseline has been running the campaign “Vaseline Healing Project” to help people get dermatological care. Likewise, our brand Fair & Lovely aims to provide education to girls.
At this time when we need to create more inclusive and sustainable growth, Unilever aims to help countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Nepal is among the 193 signatories of the SDGs during the UN Summit held in September 2015. It is first time in history when so many countries have signed a global agreement like this. SDGs comprise of one simple goal which is not to leave anybody behind. It targets to eradicate poverty in equitable and sustainable manners. And this should be the purpose of all of us in Unilever.
I am very encouraged to see Nepal’s development in terms of achieving the SDGs. Unilever certainly feels humbled to be part of the country’s development. Our efforts have proven worthy because of the partnerships we are engaged in. It is rightly said that “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Your presence here tonight is another manifestation to Unilever on the power of working together. This shows Unilever Nepal’s commitment towards higher purpose and that we are not only on the right path, but setting standards for many others to follow.
The time for us to resolve the burning issues is running out. Globally, lives of many people have been badly affected by natural disasters, wars and conflicts and the impacts of the climate change. Sometimes this gives us the impression that the numbers are not getting better. Fortunately, now people are increasingly realising that we need to change. Especially the young people and women have been raising the standard of consciousness in this regard. More people are demanding from their governments for more responsible policies which they also seek from the private sector in terms of more responsible business practices. People are demanding that the same practices should not only be implemented in our offices or factories, but in the whole supply chain that we are responsible for.
We are now in a time when the new generations who are more purposely driven are coming up. Today, technology has a wider role and it keeps everything transparent. We are also at the point where the cost of not acting is actually becoming higher than the cost of acting. A good example is the implementation of the SDGs. It would cost us about USD 3-4 trillion a year to achieve all SDGs. It sounds like a lot of money, but it is only 3-4 per cent of the global economy. We are spending nine per cent of the global economy on prevention of wars and conflicts. Likewise, we are already spending five per cent on climate change. So, we are at the point that the cost incurred for dealing with our incompetence is higher than the money we need to invest in order to create a better future for all. I am conscious about the fact that Unilever also has a role to play towards this end. However, it is possible for us to achieve this only through partnership. It was Benjamin Franklin who said “You may delay, but time will not, and lost time is never found again.” I certainly appreciate the partnerships and your sense of urgency and putting interest of the greater good ahead of your own. Fulfilling our purpose rightly will certainly contribute to create the world that we would like to have for the future generations.
“25 years for Unilever in Nepal is just the beginning”
It is for the first time a global CEO of Unilever is visiting Nepal. This is also a testimony to Unilever’s commitment to Nepal and Paul’s personal commitment in terms of growing the company’s business in the country. Unilever has an amazing history in the South Asia region. Unilever has been present in India for over last 85 years and we have very strong presence in all other SAARC countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
We are the leaders in the fast moving consumer goods business in the entire South Asia. This has not happened by an accident. It is because of Unilever’s foresight and very importantly, taking a long-term view of business potentials in these countries. And through thick and thin, Unilever has remained committed to do business in the South Asia. Today we serve 25 per cent of the world’s population who live in South Asia. I firmly believe that this region is among the markets with highest potential for the growth of the consumer goods business. We have the mighty mountains, majestic rivers, great deserts and amazing shorelines across the vast territories in South Asia. Our investment in enhancing talents and building capabilities make a difference to Unilever’s business in South Asia.
Today was a fantastic day for us. We spent half of the day reviewing Unilever Nepal’s business after we landed in Kathmandu. I am absolutely delighted with the leadership of Suyash Chauhan, the Managing Director of Unilever Nepal. We are not just growing business in Nepal, but very importantly we are sowing the seeds for further strengthening it in years to come. I believe that the 25 years for Unilever in Nepal is just the beginning. Unilever‘s ethos has always been to look at the needs of consumers from a local perspective. We believe that there is nothing like a global consumer. We can build a great franchise when we gain great insight about local consumers and believe in meeting their unmet needs. Unilever’s team in Nepal has been doing an amazing work in terms of building brands and capabilities. The most important this in this regard is that that have been living with the “Unilever Sustainable Living Plan” (USLP). The USLP incorporates the very philosophy of Unilever of making a sustainable living commonplace. Paul rightly articulates that we never look at or focus on creating shareholder’s value. When we focus on our consumers, customers, employees and communities and do a great job, shareholder value will indeed be created. This has been the reason behind our immense success in South Asia.