Having spent some time in Davos at the World Economic Forum (WEF), it’s clear that the role of business in addressing global issues has never been greater. This year’s theme, ‘The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business,’ challenged the 2,500 plus attendees – business leaders, policy makers, academics and journalists – to address the big question of how we reshape the world.
In an opening note from Pope Francis, he recognised the role business has played in combating global poverty but also challenged us to promote the “growth of equality” alongside an economic recovery. These comments come in the wake of Oxfam’s recent findings that 85 of the richest people in the world have as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population, around 3.5 billion people.
This is not right; something has to be done. I have said many times that the only sustainable growth is consumer demand-led growth, but in a resource constrained world, that is no longer enough. We need to think of sustainable growth as economic yet also environmentally and socially sustainable, but we can’t do it alone. That is why Unilever is delighted to sponsor this year’s Business in the Community (BITC) International Award, part of the BITC Responsible Business Awards. The Unilever International Award, supported by Business Fights Poverty, will continue to signal the importance of encouraging businesses to adopt new business models which integrate the sustainability agenda into their long-term strategies.
When William Hesketh Lever founded Unilever with a bar of soap called Sunlight, he had a vision. He was very clear: it was to ‘make cleanliness commonplace’. This was in response to the Victorian health act, to the dirt and squalor of nineteenth century slums, and in turn created a business that aimed to be part of the solution to society’s problems, not the cause.
Despite today’s increasing expectations, it seems that motivation among companies is not as strong. With two-thirds of people connected to the Internet and more mobile phones on the planet than people, access to information is growing and with it are expectations, especially of companies and governments.
The world has come a long way since Sunlight soap began production in 1884, but it isn’t without its challenges, as was echoed at Davos. High unemployment, water crises, severe income disparity, climate change and food insecurity were among some of the issues from WEF’s Global Risks 2014 Report tackled head-on by WEF attendees.
As the Chief Marketing Communications Officer of a company that serves consumers everyday needs in 180 countries around the world, I personally struggle to see how any modern-day company wouldn’t play an active, daily role in addressing these issues. Companies like Unilever have extraordinary reach and should play a fundamental role in society.
Every day two billion people use one of our products. This gives us the opportunity to improve the lives of millions by offering them the fundamentals of a decent life – clean drinking water, basic health and hygiene and good nutrition.
We take this responsibility seriously as should all organisations, creating new business models, such as the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. It presents us with a remarkable opportunity to grow our businesses and make a wider contribution to the world.
Now, more than ever, is the time for us to lead.
Enter the Unilever International Award to showcase how your business is leading for change.
The Unilever International Award is open for entries until 21 February 2014. If your business has a specific country or a global programme which positively addresses one or more of the key social, environmental and economic challenges facing global society, as outlined in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, we encourage you to submit your entry and share your success in making a real difference in addressing global poverty.
This article was first published on the BITC Blog, and is reproduced with permission