Enhancing the Livelihoods of Women in Unilever’s Agricultural Supply Chain

Unilever Case Study on Women's Economic Empowerment

Enhancing the Livelihoods of Women in Unilever’s Agricultural Supply Chain

Unilever Case Study on Women’s Economic Empowerment


Empowering women is critical to eradicating poverty and accelerating global development. In Unilever’s case, this is hugely important for us. Over 70% of the people making the decision to buy our brands are women. Our future growth depends on meeting their needs and aspirations and on supporting an increase in their livelihoods by fully and formally participating in the economy.

In 2014 we strengthened the Enhancing Livelihoods ambitions of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan by creating a new pillar on ‘Opportunities for Women’ with a focus on their economic empowerment based on rights, skills and opportunities. Our ambition is to empower 5 million women by 2020.

We are moving forward with the activation of our comprehensive strategy to achieve a step-change in women’s empowerment across our business and where we have influence, including:

  • Valuing and advancing opportunities for women within Unilever to ensure a gender balanced organisation
  • Promoting women’s rights to enable their full and active participation in society
  • Empowering women and women-owned businesses in our value chain
  • Creating access to training and skills
  • Innovating products that improve women’s lives
  • Driving women’s economic empowerment through our brands.

Our biggest opportunity to transform women’s lives is supporting projects across our value chain – for instance, by enhancing the livelihoods of women in our agricultural supply chain sector where they participate heavily. We focus our programmes on increasing skills for women and opening access to markets, while working to ensure that women’s fundamental rights are respected.

By the end of 2015, we had provided access to training and skills for over 730,000 women in our extended agricultural supply chain.

Case study 1: Training women farmers leads to better yields

We are improving access to training and skills for women across our value chain. Women and girls are often left behind when it comes to education. So providing access to training and skills is critical for expanding female participation in the economy.

In Madagascar, we prioritise women vanilla smallholders for training. We signed a public–private partnership with our supplier Symrise and German development agency GIZ in 2014 to improve the livelihoods of vanilla farmers, many of whom are women. We are teaching how to maximise cash crops in order to boost incomes.

Over 3,200 women are participating in the initiative aimed at improving their agricultural practices and the quality of their livelihoods across 32 farming villages. It is also improving access to primary education, which has the potential to benefit 20,000 people.

Case Study 2: Shakti: Expanding opportunities in our value chain through our women-powered distribution network in India

Women are an important part of our distribution network, particularly in developing markets. By creating opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship, we can help women increase and gain greater control over their incomes. This also helps us build stronger supply chains, distribution networks and markets.

One of our flagship models is our women-led ‘last-mile’ initiative. We train women to distribute our products in the last mile of their journey from the factory to the remote rural areas where they live.

Shakti is the name of our door-to-door selling operation in India. This is our largest initiative that aims to financially empower rural women, develop entrepreneurship and create livelihood opportunities for them. Our Shakti entrepreneurs benefit from higher incomes and distribute our brands in more than 165,000 villages, reaching over 4 million rural households.

By 2015, we had trained around 70,000 women. We provide training on basic accounting, sales, health and hygiene and relevant IT skills. We also equip our Shakti entrepreneurs with smartphones containing a mini Enterprise Resource Package to help them run their business efficiently.

Building on the success of Shakti, we are adapting this model in several South-East Asian, African and Latin American markets.

For example, in Nigeria, we are piloting Gbemiga, which incorporates our Shakti model along with nutrition and hygiene education, using an innovative mobile platform to encourage long-term behaviour change. We have developed a business case modelling tool that can be used to roll out Gbemiga at scale and enhance the livelihoods of more women globally.

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