Health & hygiene
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Health & hygiene

Lack of safe drinking water, and poor sanitation and hygiene, cause millions of preventable deaths each year – particularly among children.

The World Health Organization estimates that tackling these interconnected issues has the potential to prevent at least 9% of global disease, and 6% of all deaths. Evidence shows that people will be healthier and happier and communities more productive if they have improved access to better sanitation, safe drinking water, and basic levels of hygiene. This is essential to lifting people out of poverty.

Our health and hygiene brands – Domestos, Vaseline and Pureit – aim to improve health through better hygiene. These everyday products, as well as our innovative water purifiers, can help prevent disease and improve people’s health and well-being. And ultimately, help to save lives.

But health is not just about hygiene. Many people worldwide suffer from low self-esteem and feel anxious about their bodies. And this can have a knock-on effect on their personal lives and careers. Through Dove, our leading Beauty & Personal Care brand, we’re helping women and girls to be confident in their own bodies and build their self-esteem.

The Health & hygiene pillar of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) primarily contributes to two of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Good Health and Well-being (SDG 3); and Clean Water and Sanitation (SDG 6).

Our strategy

Our aim is to help more than a billion people to improve their health and hygiene by 2020.

Kids washing their hands

Addressing health & hygiene makes business sense

Addressing social challenges is good for society and good for business. Many of our programmes drive growth directly – our oral care, handwashing and sanitation programmes are strong examples. When more people brush their teeth, use soap regularly, and have access to sanitation, their use of toothpaste, soap and toilet cleaner increases. Domestos is helping to give people access to improved sanitation which drives market development for our business.

We run many of our health and hygiene initiatives through brands in our Beauty & Personal Care (BPC) Division. BPC is our largest Division with €20.6 billion turnover in 2018 and accounts for 40% of our turnover and 33% of our operating profit. It is home to brands such as Dove, Signal and Lifebuoy. Lifebuoy is the world’s number one antibacterial soap brand.

Our Home Care Division generated turnover of €10.1 billion in 2018, accounting for 20% of our turnover. It includes our water purifiers Pureit and Truliva (formerly Qinyuan) as well as Domestos, our market-leading toilet cleaning brand, which is helping to give people improved access to toilets.

Our approach

Providing quality, affordable products is only part of the solution to improve health through hygiene. Products alone are not enough. A big part of our work is encouraging people to adopt healthy habits. Studies show that most people know they should brush their teeth twice a day, and wash their hands with soap after going to the toilet and before eating, but often they don't.

As one of the world's leading consumer goods companies, making products that people use every day, we understand the triggers, barriers and motivators that generate sustained behaviour shifts. Underpinning our approach is our behaviour change model, the Five Levers for Change. This is a set of principles that when applied consistently, increases the likelihood of creating a lasting impact. We use this knowledge, coupled with our expertise in marketing and in delivering campaigns at mass scale, to catalyse enduring change in everyday behaviours.

TV reach

Lifebuoy runs one of the world's largest handwashing programmes. In order to reach our 1 billion target we set about finding ways to deliver effective handwashing behaviour change at an even lower cost. We have long believed that the totality of our marketing efforts is contributing to changing handwashing behaviour, including mass scale TV advertising.

So, to test this, we ran a study (a randomised control trial) in India, our biggest market, to assess the effectiveness of Lifebuoy TV adverts specifically designed to change handwashing behaviour. We used the same methodology that we use to evaluate our on-ground programmes.

TV acts as a constant “nudge” or reminder to practise handwashing with soap at key occasions to remove germs. The Lifebuoy TV adverts established the problem context, showing the presence of germs and the consequence of falling ill. The adverts also demonstrated the role of Lifebuoy soap, showing that handwashing with soap removes germs and prevents illness. And through using a respected authority figure, such as a doctor, we ensured that the advert attracted viewers’ attention.

The study showed a significant increase in the frequency of handwashing with soap on key occasions (particularly before eating) after people had watched the adverts. This result demonstrates that mass media can promote and impact positive health behaviours at scale.

In early 2019 the study was published by the Journal of Health Communication and we have included TV reach in our Health & Well-being performance figures for 2018 alongside our on-ground programme reach. Through TV reach, we have successfully achieved our Health & Well-being target of reaching over 1 billion people two years ahead of schedule.

Innovation

We’re using our expertise to come up with innovative products that can help more people live healthier lives. For example, our water purifiers offer water that is not only safe and convenient to use, but that tastes good too. We have extended their appeal by communicating superior safety and have introduced models that tackle increasing problems such as removing total dissolved salts (TDS) from drinking water, and models that dramatically improve the removal of the pesticide residues that are frequently found in drinking water.

Advocacy & partnerships

In July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the UN General Assembly explicitly recognised the human right to water and sanitation. It acknowledged that safe and clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to full enjoyment of life and all human rights. Unilever respects these rights by ensuring that we operate our business in a way that fulfils the human right to water, as defined by the UN Human Right to Water Policy. We’ve also signed the World Business Council for Sustainable Development WASH Pledge to ensure access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in all our factories, plantations and workplaces.

Heads of state from all around the world gathered in New York in September 2015 to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, resulting in 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 6 focuses purely on water and sanitation, aiming to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” We worked with others to call for hygiene to be included as a key component within this SDG and welcomed the inclusion of indicators measuring access to handwashing with soap facilities.

Through our brands, behaviour change programmes and by joining forces with others around events – such as the UN General Assembly, Regional Water, Sanitation and Hygiene summits, and World Toilet Day – with our partners, we’re contributing towards achieving SDG 6. Partnering with organisations who share our ambition to improve health through better hygiene is critical to our programmes achieving a positive impact on a large scale. We work with partners in many ways, including: joint advocacy programmes to raise the profile of issues; scaling-up existing programmes; piloting initiatives; and securing additional funding to increase the impact of our joint investment.

Businesses are well-placed to work with governments, civil society and development agencies to drive transformational and sustainable change at scale. Whether it’s through our understanding of consumers, knowledge of behaviour change, the design of innovative products, our ability to deliver programs at mass scale or the provision of financing, we bring a host of resources and knowledge to the table that can strengthen our collaborations. And in turn, improve people’s health and well-being while simultaneously growing our business.

Catalysing interested groups to come together around a shared objective is something we have found particularly useful. The Toilet Board Coalition is one example which Unilever was a founding member of – a global, business-led alliance of companies, investors, sanitation experts and non-profit organisations, which aims to develop sustainable and scalable solutions to the sanitation crisis.

Our commitment

By 2020, we will help more than a billion people take action to improve their health and hygiene. This will help reduce the incidence of life-threatening diseases like diarrhoea – one of the biggest causes of deaths in children under five.

Progress to date

Eight years into our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we’ve learnt that it’s possible to reach people at scale and we have achieved our target two years ahead of schedule.

By the end of 2018 we had reached 1.24 billion people, 653 million of whom were reached through on-ground programmes and 587 million through TV reach on handwashing: 1 billion people with Lifebuoy (459 million people through on-ground programmes and 587 million through TV reach)1; 16.5 million with improved access to a toilet2; 83.5 million with our toothpaste brands; over 35 million through Dove self-esteem programmes; over 4 million through Vaseline’s Healing Project and 55 million with safe drinking water from Pureit. Pureit also provided 106 billion litres of safe drinking water by the end of 2018.


  Independently assured by PwC

1 The evidence that TV drives handwashing behaviour change comes from a proof of principles study in India.

2 Results are reported by UNICEF in accordance with its methodology and includes reach from direct and indirect initiatives over 2012-2017; and also includes Clean Toilets, Brighter Futures reach of 33,000 children in 2018.

Future challenges

For our range of water purifiers, our immediate priority is to strengthen and expand operations in existing markets. Acquiring the Qinyuan water purification business in China in 2014 – renamed Truliva in 2018 – has added to our capabilities. However, to build scale, we need stronger distribution and after-sales service capabilities. We also need to build further partnerships with micro-finance institutions to make purifiers more affordable to low-income consumers.

Having clean, safe toilets in schools is important for pupils’ health and particularly for girls’ participation in school as poor toilet access is a key reason why girls skip or drop out of school when they start having their periods. But for toilets to be used continually over time, a fundamental shift in behaviour is needed.

So, we are supporting initiatives that drive behaviour change through a number of different routes, such as continuing our support of UNICEF’s sanitation programme. We are also supporting the operation and maintenance of toilets in schools through our Cleaner Toilets, Brighter Futures programme, to ensure that school toilets are kept in a clean and working condition so they can be continually used over time.

A key element of this work is supporting governments to adopt this behaviour change at a national level, such as regular monitoring of toilet standards in schools to drive widespread institutional change. This would mean that all schools are helped and ultimately, no student would have their health impacted, skip or drop out of school because of the lack of clean, safe toilets.


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Health & hygiene
Our commitment

By 2020, we will help more than a billion people to improve their health and hygiene. This will help reduce the incidence of life-threatening diseases like diarrhoea.

Our performance

1.24 billion people were reached by the end of 2018, 653 million of whom were reached through on-ground programmes and 587 million through TV reach on handwashing: 1 billion people with Lifebuoy (459 million people through on-ground programmes and 587 million through TV reach)*; 16.5 million with improved access to a toilet**; 83.5 million with our toothpaste brands; over 35 million through Dove self-esteem programmes; over 4 million through Vaseline’s Healing Project and 55 million with safe drinking water from Pureit. Pureit also provided 106 billion litres of safe drinking water by the end of 2018.

Our perspective

We have achieved our 2020 commitment two years ahead of schedule. By the end of 2018, we had reached 1.24 billion people (653 million through on-ground programmes and 587 million through TV reach on handwashing*), up from 601 million in 2017.

Our Signal and Pepsodent toothpaste brands reached their 2020 target of reaching 50 million people early, and by 2018 had reached 83.5 million people through our Brush Day & Night campaigns*** and school programmes.

Dove achieved its 2015 target a year early and reached nearly 20 million by 2015. In 2016 we extended our target to reach a further 20 million young people – our ambition now is to help a total of 40 million young people improve their body confidence and self-esteem by 2020.

In 2014 we introduced a new target for sanitation, with Domestos working with UNICEF to scale up sanitation improvement initiatives. Over 2012-2017 we enabled 16.5 million people to gain improved access to a toilet.**

And in 2017, we introduced a further target: though our Vaseline® Healing Project, we aim to help heal the skin of 5 million people by 2020. By 2018, we reached over 4 million people through our Vaseline® Healing Project.

 Independently assured by PwC

* The evidence that TV drives handwashing behaviour change comes from a proof of principles study in India.

**Results are reported by UNICEF in accordance with its methodology and includes reach from direct and indirect initiatives over 2012-2017; and also includes Clean Toilets, Brighter Futures reach of 33,000 children in 2018.

*** See Independent Assurance & Our Metrics for the definition of ‘reach’.


  • Achieved 3

  • On-Plan 4

  • Off-Plan 0

  • %

    Of target achieved 0

Key to our performance
  • Achieved

    This is the number of targets we have achieved

  • On-Plan

    This is the number of targets we are on track to achieve

  • Off-Plan

    This is the number of targets we are currently not on track

  • %

    Of target achieved

    This is the percentage of the target we are on track to achieve

Our targets

Please see Independent assurance and our metrics for more details of our assurance programme across the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Reduce diarrhoeal and respiratory disease through handwashing

  • By 2020 our Lifebuoy brand aims to change the hygiene behaviour of 1 billion consumers across Asia, Africa and Latin America by promoting the benefits of handwashing with soap at key times.

In 2015, we extended our target from 2015 to 2020.

1 billion people reached: 459 million people through on-ground programmes and 587 million through TV reach.*


Our Perspective

In order to reach our 1 billion target, we set about finding ways to deliver effective handwashing behaviour change at an even lower cost. We have long believed that the totality of our marketing efforts is contributing to changing handwashing behaviour, including mass scale TV advertising.

So, to test this, we ran a study (a randomised control trial) in India, our biggest market, to assess the effectiveness of Lifebuoy TV adverts specifically designed to change handwashing behaviour, using the same methodology that we use to evaluate our on-ground programmes.

TV acts as a constant “nudge” or reminder to practise handwashing with soap at key occasions to remove germs. The Lifebuoy TV adverts established the problem context, showing the presence of germs and the consequence of falling ill. The adverts also demonstrated the role of Lifebuoy soap, showing that handwashing with soap removes germs and prevents illness. And through using a respected authority figure, such as a doctor, we ensured that the advert attracted viewers’ attention.

The study showed a significant increase in the frequency of handwashing with soap on key occasions (particularly before eating) after people watched the adverts. This result demonstrates that mass media can promote and impact positive health behaviours at scale.

In early 2019 the study was published by the Journal of Health Communication and we have included TV reach in our Health & Well-being performance figures for 2018 alongside our on-ground programme reach. Through TV reach, we have successfully achieved our Health & Well-being target of reaching over 1 billion people two years ahead of schedule.

*The evidence that TV drives handwashing behaviour change comes from a proof of principles study in India.

Healthy handwashing habits for life

Provide safe drinking water

Through our range of water purifiers, we aim to provide 150 billion litres of safe drinking water by 2020.1

Pureit provided 106 billion litres of safe drinking water by 2018. In 2018 alone, Pureit provided over 10 billion litres.


Our Perspective

Our range of water purifiers provides safe drinking water in 13 countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. The combined populations in these markets represent half the population of the world. Between 2005 and 2018, we provided 106 billion litres of safe drinking water, with around 10 billion litres in 2018.

We expanded our business in China with the acquisition in 2014 of the Qinyuan Group, China’s largest water purifying company.2

We continue to enhance our product offerings to appeal to consumers across different income levels and markets. Our most affordable model costs around €20 in India, with an ongoing running cost of just thirty Indian paise for a litre of safe drinking water. This is lower than the cost of boiling water and significantly less than buying bottled water.

We want to help the world’s poorest communities to access safe drinking water. So in 2017, we began a pilot programme, partnering with Water Health International who are global experts in community water systems. By setting up community water plants, we can reach families who can’t afford to have their own Pureit system at home. Together, we have set up four pilot plants in the city of Tumkur and two in Ramdurg.

 Independently assured by PwC

1 We revised our target in 2014 to reflect what matters most for health – the ongoing consumption of safe drinking water. The new metric also allows us to capture the ongoing consumption of safe water (litres) that is a stronger surrogate measure of the ongoing health impact, versus just providing one-off devices. It improves on our previous metric of people reached, which measured sales of our purifiers multiplied by the average household size to give a number of people reached on average by each device. Over 2005-2013, 55 million people used Pureit.

2 Truliva (formerly Qinyuan) is not yet included in our calculation of litres of safe drinking water provided.

Providing safe drinking water

Improve access to sanitation

By 2020 we will help 25 million people gain improved access to a toilet by promoting the benefits of using clean toilets and by making toilets accessible.

Over 2012-2017, we helped 16.5 million people gain improved access to a toilet.*


Our Perspective

When we added this target to the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan in 2014, we became the first company to make a commitment to improving sanitation on this scale. Over 2012-2017, Domestos’s partnership with UNICEF has helped 16.5 million people gain improved access to a toilet.*

Sanitation is one of the most complex areas of development, so we are working with partners to roll out quality sanitation programmes with increasing speed and scale. Building toilets, while crucial, is not enough. We also need to change how people think and feel about having a toilet or access to a toilet, as well as teach how to keep a toilet clean so they feel comfortable using it.

In 2018, we continued our global partnership with UNICEF and rolled-out sanitation initiatives in schools. We’ve found that by educating children about the importance of good hygiene habits, they in turn influence their families. Through Domestos’ partnership with UNICEF, we are supporting sanitation education in schools through the School-Led Total Sanitation programme.

In 2018 we also rolled-out Cleaner Toilets, Brighter Futures programme in schools in which we work with janitors, teachers and children so that once toilets are clean and useable, they can be kept that way. So far, our Cleaner Toilets, Brighter Futures programme in schools has helped 644 schools – 33,000 children – achieve cleaner, safer toilets.

* Results are reported by UNICEF in accordance with its methodology and includes reach from direct and indirect initiatives over 2012-2017.

Toilets for a better tomorrow

Improve oral health

We will use our toothpaste and toothbrush brands and oral health improvement programmes to encourage children and their parents to brush day and night. We aim to reach 50 million people by 2020.

We achieved our target early, reaching over 50 million people. By 2018, our total increased to 83.5 million. We reached over 5 million people in 2018.


Our Perspective

Smile’s (our oral care masterbrand which encompasses Signal, Pepsodent, Mentadent, Aim and P/S) mission is to improve oral health by encouraging families to brush morning and night using fluoride toothpaste.

Research shows that long-term brushing habits are best forged during childhood, so we focus on instilling good habits from an early age, and encourage positive parental role modelling. Our Brush Day and Night campaign, a fun and engaging school programme, has been proven to increase brushing frequency by 25%. These Brush Day and Night materials are available on the brand website, so anyone can get involved in teaching good brushing habits for life.

Improving oral health

Improve self-esteem

With our Dove brand we are helping millions of young people to build up positive body confidence and self-esteem through educational programmes.



  • By 2015 we aimed to help 15 million young people. In fact, we reached nearly 20 million by 2015, and in 2016 we extended our target to help another 20 million young people by 2020.

19.5 million young people received our help between 2005-2015. By 2016, we reached 23 million and 29 million by 2017. This figure grew to over 35 million in 2018, setting us on track to achieve our ambition of reaching 40 million young people by 2020.


Our Perspective

We achieved our 2015 target a year early with a reach of 20 million. To uphold our longstanding commitment, in 2016 we extended our target to reach another 20 million young people – an overall aim to reach a total of 40 million by 2020.

In 2018, we continued to accelerate the reach and quality of the Dove Self-Esteem Project through cost effective local implementation strategies. We have also developed new ways to reach “direct to girl”. This includes a two-year partnership with the Cartoon Network’s critically acclaimed cartoon series, Steven Universe. Together we created a series of six short films on the core themes of self-esteem as well as a personalised e-book.

As a brand, we launched the Dove ‘No Digital Distortion’ Mark, which works as a stamp to assure people that the image they’re looking at has not being digitally altered to fit the ideals of what beauty is and isn’t. The symbol features in Dove's imagery across print, outdoor, in-store, digital and social media.

In 2018, Dove achieved accreditation from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) as cruelty-free. Since January 2019, PETA’s cruelty-free logo has appeared on Dove packaging to assure customers that Dove does not, and will not, conduct any tests on animals anywhere in the world.

Dove is our largest brand and grew by 7.8% in 2018.

Building body confidence and self-esteem

Help improve skin healing

Though our Vaseline Healing Project, we aim to help heal the skin of 5 million people by 2020.

By 2018, we reached over 4 million people through our Vaseline® Healing Project, setting us on our way to help heal the skin of 5 million people by 2020.

New target 2017


Our Perspective

By the end of 2018, we reached over 4 million people through our Vaseline® Healing Project, which has helped heal the skin of people since 2015 across 74 countries through donations of Vaseline® products and relief missions to provide skin care treatment and training for local healthcare workers.

In areas of prolonged need, such as Jordan, we provide support through skin care missions and product donations. In 2018, we sponsored a series of doctors on three-month placements, rotating around different Syrian refugee camps. Also in 2018, we supported communities in Indonesia following earthquake, tsunami and volcano eruptions and helped Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

Ready to respond to disasters & emergencies
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