Lessening the impact of disasters and emergencies

We aim to reduce the impact of disasters and emergencies - on communities and on our business - through partnerships focused on preparedness, relief, and rehabilitation. Unilever has been responding to global disasters and humanitarian crises for years, providing a combination of business expertise, product donations, financial support and employee contributions.

59 million: people displaced by political and social instability by the end of 2014 1

19 million: people displaced by natural disasters in 2014 2

Unilever has been responding to global disasters and humanitarian crises for years, providing a combination of business expertise, product donations, financial support and employee contributions.

Today, natural disasters are occurring five times as often as they were in the 1970s. The severity of floods, earthquakes and storms are increasing, and so are the negative impacts on our planet and its people. Climate change poses a real threat, and we are also seeing an increasing level of political and social instability. The result…millions of people worldwide face threats to their safety, well-being and security.

These crises also have a direct impact on Unilever, causing disruption and instability to our supply chain, logistics and customers. Given the impact of climate change, the cost of disasters will only increase.

As a business committed to growing sustainably, we aim to ensure minimal disruption to our operations while providing support in times of global crises as business cannot close its eyes to the world in which it operates. Our support includes providing expertise in behaviour change programming and supply chain management, as well as product donations, financial support, and contributions from our more than 170,000 employees worldwide.

Working with partners, we focus on providing support on three-levels: preparedness, relief, and rehabilitation.

Preparing communities, networks and supply chains

Our preparedness work focuses on understanding which locations are at the highest risk, investing in resilience, ensuring collaboration between sectors, and protecting our supply chains.

Ensuring that networks between sectors are in place is crucial in both preparation for, and response to, disasters and emergencies. The public, private and NGO sectors must continue to work together to improve the co-ordination of responses. Paul Polman, our CEO is driving this agenda by representing the private sector on the International Oversight Group (‘IOG’), set up by the Institute of Medicine, to create a global framework for emergency response. We are also fostering dialogue among the business community about how the role the private sector can play in disaster and emergency response.

Following a private sector dialogue we co-hosted with the World Bank at Davos in 2015, the World Economic Forum in collaboration with the Boston Consulting Group issued a report entitled Managing the Risk & Impact of Future Epidemics: Options for Public-Private Cooperation, which focuses on how the private sector can better harness its potential in preparation of and during future outbreaks or epidemics.

Within our business, we invest in in geographies that are at high risk of being affected by disasters. These include countries vulnerable to climate change, such as the Philippines, where we have worked with UNICEF to educate communities about the importance of good WASH practices for preventing the spread of disease in the aftermath of disaster. We have also worked with Save the Children in Myanmar to help prepare and respond to disasters rapidly and effectively, through pre-positioning of 3,000 household and hygiene kits. These kits will be deployed in the event of a disaster, and serve 18,000 people.

Providing fast emergency relief

©Chris de Bode/Save the Children

When disasters or emergencies occur, a rapid response can make a vital difference to affected communities. Our contributions to the relief effort include behaviour change programming and supply chain management expertise, the provision of product donations, financial support, and employee contributions, the latter which are matched by the Unilever.

We have developed a toolkit that enables our global and country offices to work closely with our partners to understand what resources they require, and map them against what the business can provide. This enables us to respond quickly and efficiently in times of crisis.

When the Ebola emergency hit in August 2014, for example, we mobilised resources regional level, sharing expertise and in-kind donations, and working with global partners including the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), UNICEF, Save the Children, and Population Services International (PSI). As part of our response, we distributed 2.4 million bars of Lifebuoy soap and 75,000 packs of laundry detergent across Nigeria and Liberia.

We also hosted a workshop for DFID to share our expertise on mass-scale behaviour change campaigns in an effort to help DFID implement behaviour change programmes in afflicted areas, aiming to drastically reduce infection rates. Additionally, we ran a global employee donation appeal with several of our global partners and matched contributions.

Rehabilitation: rebuilding communities, economies and value chains

School children in a refugee camp

When people are hit by a disaster or an emergency, the impacts can last longer than the initial crisis. Livelihoods, communities, and economies can all be hit hard, which is why we support the rebuilding of sustainable value chains through a range of rehabilitation programmes which have long-term positive health impacts. For example, we have been supporting Save the Children’s work responding to the Syrian refugee crisis, including in Jordan.

To date, Save the Children has reached more than 976,000 people in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Syria including over 648,000 children. With support from the Global Partnerships team and employee contributions, Unilever is helping Save the Children run facilities such as kindergartens, activity centres and community centres in Jordan. These are safe, welcoming places where children and their parents can gather and regain a sense of normality.

1 Source: Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2014. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2015

2 Source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2015

Back to top