Unilever; Jamaican Me Crazy

unilever-protestUnilever balances on a precarious divide in the world of ethical consumption. With dozens of brands, Unilever's empire spans the spectrum of resource use ranging from sustainable to rapacious. Simultaneously accused of pillaging rainforests through negligent palm oil practices while lauded for rainforest protection under Rainforest Alliance certification, Unilever is a conundrum.

Ben & Jerry's is Unilever's sustainability poster-child. The brand has committed to convert all ingredients to Fairtrade by the end of 2013. Globally, this involves adapting up to 121 different types of chunk and swirl to Fairtrade including cocoa, banana, vanilla, fruits and nuts. This also means involving Fairtrade co-operatives with a combined membership of over 27,000 farmers.

Yet, Ben & Jerry's represents only a fraction of Unilever's total sales under its Heartbrand Ice Cream brand which includes others labels such as Carte d'Or and Breyers. These remaining ice cream brands, as well as multiple other brands in its food, personal and home care lines are widely criticized for a lack of labor and environmental standards. Now that Unilever has demonstrated its ability to source sustainable ingredients from its most complicated brand, any excuse for using unsustainable ingredients in the remaining brands sounds Half Baked.

0607livjamaicanpf2If Unilever is not convinced to engage in ethical sourcing by goodwill alone, the company should be convinced purely by risk-management strategy. Unilever employees are still jarred by the palm-oil protesters swinging from the front steps of Unilever's central London headquarters dressed as orangutans (pictured). Similarly, it is not a stretch of the memory for Unilever to recall protests outside their annual general meeting due to the poor labor conditions in tea plantations which supply Brooke Bond and PG Tips.

Whether you believe that Unilever is a visionary company with regressive twinges or a regressive company with rare strokes of vision, it is clear that Unilever needs to put more emphasis on its first syllable and work to unify the CSR strategy of its many brands.

For Unilever to truly demonstrate commitment to the well being of people and the planet, the company must incorporate the social responsibility strategies demonstrated by Ben & Jerry's into its core business practices. Hopefully, Unilever will take its cue from previous work with Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance to better Imagine Whirled Peace across the supply chain.

To learn more about this topic from the leading brands and certification labels in sustainability join the first international conference on ethical certification held in London on September 29, 2010. See www.theinsource.com for more information.