Unilever has announced a range of measures to support efforts in combatting COVID-19 to the value of just over $1 billion. In a comprehensive, sobering statement released overnight, CEO Alan Jope said: “It won’t be long before most people in the world know of a life lost, or a livelihood destroyed, by the coronavirus pandemic.
The company has committed free soap, sanitiser, bleach and food to the value of €100 (AU$180.8) million. Jope said around half of that would go to the COVID-19 Action Platform of the World Economic Forum, which is supporting global health organisations and agencies with their response to the emergency.
The other half will come from the product donations, partnerships and handwashing education programmes at a national and local level.
Jope said initiatives were already underway in the US, India, China, UK, Netherlands, Italy and other countries. Its Lifebuoy team has been manufacturing and distributing millions of bars of free soap to those most in need.
“Thank you to the Unilever team for their selfless and tireless efforts – particularly those working in manufacturing, distribution and our R&D labs who are ensuring we can keep up supply,” Jope said.
“Remarkably, until there is a vaccine for COVID-19, soap remains our best first line of defence.
“Medical authorities are clear: washing our hands thoroughly and frequently with soap or using sanitiser where soap and water are not available, is one of the most effective ways to arrest the spread of infection.
“As the world’s biggest soap company, we have a responsibility to help. We have a social, medical and moral obligation to make soap more readily available worldwide.
“We have to deploy our expertise in how to teach people to handwash effectively, whichever brand they choose to use. So, today, we have announced a set of measures to support global and national efforts to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. To protect lives and to protect livelihoods.”
Supporting suppliers, customers and employees
Jope gave assurances the company wanted to support customers, suppliers and its employees through the financial challenges of the crisis, with a staggering €500 (AU$904.6) million of cash flow relief to support livelihoods across its extended value chain.
Jope said: “We will do this through early payment for our most vulnerable small and medium-sized suppliers to help them with financial liquidity and extending credit to selected small-scale retail customers whose business relies on Unilever, to help them manage and protect jobs.
In regards to Unilever's workforce, Jope said their wellbeing was, “our utmost priority, we will protect them from sudden drops in pay, as a result of market disruption or being unable to perform their role, for up to three months.
“We will cover our employees, contractors and others who we manage or who work on our sites, on a full or part-time basis. This will apply to workers not already covered by government plans or by their direct employer.
“For the avoidance of doubt, this includes those women and men who work to keep our facilities secure, our premises clean, or who run our cafeterias; and who are so much a part of our team even if they are not directly on Unilever’s payroll.”
Action from everyone
“Already, too many people have a heartbreaking story to tell, whether through illness or because they are facing the social or financial consequences of the world shutting down to all but the most essential activity.
“We stand in awe of, and express our gratitude to, all those working heroically at the frontline to slow down the spread of COVID-19. Every nurse, doctor, paramedic and other first responder… we salute you.
“In most countries, the situation will get worse before it gets better.
“Social distancing is critical to slow the spread, and we must all take this seriously. But we must also remember that social distancing means physical distancing, not emotional distancing; and we should take inspiration from the millions of small acts of human kindness, ingenuity and spirit which have lit up our social media feeds in recent weeks.
“It’s going to take action from everyone in society to overcome this challenge, and we are ready to play our part and fight this together,” Jope said.
CEO Unilever Australia and New Zealand Clive Stiff said: “Australia and New Zealand are nations that have overcome a lot over the past year. What we have learnt during this challenging period is that it is imperative we work together as a community.
“Our factories are operating 24/7 to try keep shelves stocked with essential food, personal care and cleaning products.
“We are also working around the clock with our partners, customers, industry groups and government to identify ways our business can contribute to national efforts in tackling the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. We will fight this together.”
Unilever responded quickly to donate Dove soap to the NSW Department of Education for distribution to schools experiencing shortages due to stockpiling, Stiff said.
The company also provided funding to help Foodbank NSW and ACT employ paid casuals in lieu of corporate volunteer groups that have been cancelled due to new social distancing rules. “This will help Foodbank continue supporting Australians facing hardship, particularly as a result of the coronavirus,” Stiff said.