The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan for

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Inclusive business

Inclusive business

As well as directly creating wealth and jobs, our business supports – and relies on – the millions of people who source, make and sell our products.

Making a real and positive difference to their lives is one of our greatest opportunities to broaden and deepen our positive social impact – and to strengthen the long-term sustainability of our business.

Our reach, scale... and opportunity

Beyond the factories and sites where we make our products is a network of millions of people who contribute to our success, and who benefit from their relationship with Unilever. Whether they are among the smallholders from whom we buy ingredients indirectly via our suppliers, or the small-scale retailers who bring our products to new and existing consumers, we believe that increasing their capacity and opportunities can strengthen them, and their communities, in ways that contribute to a more sustainable future.

At the same time, an inclusive approach to these networks also makes strong business sense. It helps to secure our essential supplies, expands the markets for our products, and increases the resilience of our business model in an uncertain world.

Our commitment

By 2020, we will have a positive impact on the lives of 5.5 million people by improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, and the incomes of small-scale retailers, and by increasing the participation of young entrepreneurs in our value chain.

Our strategy


We aim to contribute to economic well-being through wealth creation, employment, improving skills, and access to markets – a virtuous cycle of growth linked to our business. In turn we are contributing to a number of UN Global Goals such as: Goal 1 – No Poverty; Goal 2 – Zero Hunger; Goal 8 – Decent Work & Economic Growth; Goal 9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; and Goal 10 – Reduce Inequality.

At the same time, we know that working with specific parts of our supply and distribution networks creates opportunities to enhance livelihoods in a variety of ways - including by promoting sustainable agriculture practices, empowering women, advancing human rights and fairness in the workplace, and improving health and nutrition.

Often, we can have the greatest impact by working with partners, including by focusing on the transformational issues needed to create change in the systems in which smallholder farmers and small retailers operate.

Inclusive business pillar
Enhancing lives for smallholder farmers

According to the World Bank, supporting smallholder farming is the most effective way of stimulating economic development and reducing poverty.

We run programmes that aim to enhance smallholder farmers' lives in a wide range of ways, but improving agricultural practices remains at the heart of our efforts. This strengthens the connection between the success of our business and the economic and social well-being of smallholders and their communities. Our ‘Enhancing Lives’ strategy for smallholder farmers promotes:

  • the provision of equitable and reliable market access, by making our value chains transparent and establishing long-term partnerships
  • interventions that help smallholder farmers and their communities improve agricultural practices, business capabilities and life skills
  • women's economic standing, and supports changing farm dynamics to help improve their position and well-being
  • young agricultural entrepreneurs to make rural value chains more attractive for future generations.

"Those most often living in extreme poverty are those living on small farms. Supporting smallholder farmers to improve their yields and therefore their incomes can develop the resilience of smallholder farmer communities, making them economically stronger and more stable, and so help safeguard a secure supply chain for the future."

Paul Polman, Unilever CEO

Inclusive distribution models

Our distribution networks are a vital part of our value chain, bringing our products to consumers. They give us an important opportunity to enhance livelihoods and drive economic growth, because they involve many small-scale distributors and retailers, including young entrepreneurs.

We empower small retailers and young entrepreneurs with training, jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities. In turn, they become ambassadors for Unilever and our brands around the world, and help us reach our consumers via new routes to market.

Progress to date

In 2016 we enabled around 650,000 smallholder farmers and 1.5 million small-scale retailers to access initiatives aiming to improve their agricultural practices or increase incomes.Ж Φ

Ж Around 300,000 women have accessed initiatives under both the Inclusive Business and the Opportunities for Women pillars in 2016.
Φ Measured 1 October – 30 September.

Future challenges

While we have made good progress in improving the agriculture practices of many of our smallholder farmers through certification programmes, the challenge is to provide proof of impact that extends beyond agricultural practices, in areas such as health and nutrition.

We also need to scale up interventions to directly support smallholder farmers in other commodities crops namely palm oil. The refresh of our Sustainable Palm Oil Sourcing Policy reaffirms our commitment to build a more inclusive supply chain for smallholders and we are committed to partner with the industry to make this happen.

Transformational change - Discover how we're driving transformational change by eliminating deforestation, championing the role of women, supporting sustainable agriculture and smallholder farmers, and improving water, sanitation and hygiene.


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Targets & performance

As part of the Inclusive Business pillar of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we have set ambitious targets to create a positive impact on the lives of 5.5 million people.

Inclusive business
Our Commitment

By 2020, we will have a positive impact on the lives of 5.5 million people by improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, improving the incomes of small-scale retailers and increasing the participation of young entrepreneurs in our value chain.

Our performance

In 2016 we enabled around 650,000 smallholder farmers and 1.5 million small-scale retailers to access initiatives aiming to improve their agricultural practices or increase their incomes. Ж Φ

Our perspective

In 2016 we enabled around 1.5 million small-scale retailers in our distribution network to access initiatives aiming to increase their incomes, principally through Perfect Store in India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam. Due to the introduction of more stringent measures for stores to be defined as compliant, this is down from 1.8 million in 2015.

We do not report all small-scale retailer initiatives due to data availability and quality issues. For example, Perfect Store is present in over 50 markets but we are only currently reporting on 7 of the largest markets – which constitute around 80% of small scale retailers globally. We are looking at ways to address this reporting challenge.

Through our commitment to sourcing sustainably – in particular cocoa, tea, palm oil, vanilla and vegetables – we are strengthening smallholder farming and making good progress towards our 2020 target. By working with our suppliers and partners, we have enabled around 650,000 smallholder farmers to access initiatives aiming to improve their agricultural practices.

Ж Around 300,000 women have accessed initiatives under both the Inclusive Business and the Opportunities for Women pillars in 2016.

Φ Measured 1 October – 30 September.


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Our targets

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

Improve livelihoods of smallholder farmers

Our goal is to engage with at least 500,000 smallholder farmers in our supply network. We will help them improve their agricultural practices and thus enable them to become more competitive. By doing so we will improve the quality of their livelihoods.

In 2016 we enabled around 650,000 smallholder farmers to access initiatives aiming to improve their agricultural practices.


Our Perspective

As well as enabling around 650,000 smallholder farmers to access initiatives aiming to improve their agricultural practices, we have also mapped our smallholder farmer footprint and support programmes. Understanding our footprint helps us to target the agricultural materials where we buy the largest volumes and therefore can have the biggest impact.

We believe in the power of partnerships to create systemic change. We are always looking to build strategic alliances to scale our social and environmental impact especially for smallholder farmers.

In 2016 a number of exciting new partnerships and programmes have come to life. For example, through our partnership with Oxfam and the Ford Foundation via the Enhancing Livelihoods Fund (ELF) we have been strengthening communities in the vetiver supply chain in Haiti and the gherkin industry in India, through match-funded projects aimed at improving the livelihoods of smallholders, workers and their communities.

Improve incomes of small-scale retailers

We will create and improve the incomes of 5 million small-scale retailers in our distribution network.

We continue to build our small-scale retailer distribution network although there has been a fall in overall performance.


Our Perspective

Around 1.5 million small-scale retailers in our distribution network are accessing our Perfect Store initiative, which aims to increase their incomes. The number of small-scale retailers has decreased from 1.8 million in 2015 following a rescoping of stores that can benefit from the Perfect Store programme in India. We provide these retailers with opportunities to grow their business and bring our quality branded goods into mostly rural markets.

Building on our Perfect Store programme, our Perfect Village initiative continues to grow, taking a holistic approach to the community, working with consumers and small retailers to improve health, hygiene and nutrition in villages.

We continue to expand our Shakti programme beyond India to other developing and emerging markets.

Increase the participation of young entrepreneurs in our value chain

We will increase the participation of young entrepreneurs in our value chain.

We will train and enable young people to participate in the agricultural business sector globally and in the distribution channels of our brands to market.

We continue to help young people through our agricultural supply chain and distribution channels.


Our Perspective

A number of our partnerships are benefitting young people. In Ghana for example we ran a pilot programme to improve financial and social literacy for young cocoa farmers. In Egypt we have created a micro-distribution network of salesmen, called Safeer, many of whom were previously unemployed. Meanwhile, in Bangladesh our rural ambassador initiative (Pollydut) has been running for over a decade and is helping unemployed young people back into work by selling our brands in rural communities.

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