The world’s food chain makes up a tight-knit weave of players that dominate the industry. It’s important now more than ever to know who is in charge of our food. Next to water and shelter it’s in the top three relied upon essentials. Large Retail chains have replaced the small Mom and Pop shops of yesterday. One company has been stocking the shelves for the past 90 years at retail stores around the world. They’re busy paving the way for the future. Supplying the mega retail chains we know today and have a powerful impact on your food.
Unilever and their powerful impact on your food
Unilever is one of the oldest multinational companies to source our food. They provide everything in stores from ice-cream too energy drinks. In addition, they sell over 400 cleaning agents and beauty brands. It can control how our food is grown, controlled, and distributed by retail chains.
The company founded in 1929 when Dutch Margarine and the Lever soap company joined forces. I don’t think back than they ever could have imagined what they would achieve! Their consolidation would eventually lead them to make 53 billion euros in 2017! With this responsibility, Unilever recognizes that they play a vital role in the environment. So, they’ve taken steps to become responsible for their business’s ecological footprint.
Large corporations like Unilever can influence society in a positive or negative way. So looking at who to trust to do the right social and environmentally responsible thing is important. In this article, I’ll discuss the black and white difference between a conventional and a value chain system. The past has proven that there isn’t a lot of hope for issues such as plastic pollution, farmers’ rights, and economic oppression. So let’s find out why?
The food conflict
There are two ways the food system operates. The majority of our food system currently runs in a conventional state. The competitive nature of the industry governs interrelationships negatively. These relationships often become a win-lose kind of deal. Not surprisingly this causes quite a bit of inter-organizational mistrust! Mistrust from the bottom up!
It all begins with the typical links in the supply chain; the inputs-producer-processor-distributor-wholesaler-retailer and then the consumer. The National Institute for Food and Agriculture Coop. describes this relationship. The farmers, ranchers, and fishermen are all treated as dispensable. They carry the largest burden of risk often facing restrictions and short term contracts. Given that it has created adversarial growing conditions for companies.
The people in the field of “inputs” get the shitty end of the deal. While the fat cats in the food processing and marketing sectors gain most of the profits. But, there’s another way to do business and it’s called the value-based chain. The Value-based food chain method forms a “win-win” relationship with its strategic partners.
A Food System for the future
In contrast, the business relationships in a value-based system are set upon principles of trust. The interdependent and inter-organizational partners feel the well being of others is vital. Vital for the performance of the supply chain.
The value-based commitments in the supply chain have appropriate profit margins. Plus, business arrangements have longer agreements. A company adds value by processing food from a raw state into a delicious snack, meal or treat! It also gains incremental value if it’s Organic, free of antibiotics or hormone-free.
Unilever is a conventional company working within the principles of the value chain. According to Oxfam International, it’s in the top 10 companies that supply us our food. It’s in charge of 500,000 smallholders and small scale distributors. As a result, it has the responsibility to fill the shelves of grocery stores in 190 countries.
The aim is to treat farmers and women fairly while protecting forests. Yet there’s another area of equal importance that has become a hot issue. The world currently recycles only 9% of plastic waste! For this reason, waste is devastating to the natural world.
In developed economies, 1/3 of plastic comes from packaging. So it’s fair to say that a company with billions and billions in sales should take responsibility. According to the world economic forum, Plastic pollution causes the global economy to lose 80-120 billion dollars each year.
The economic toll is large. However, once the plastic is in the environment the toll is insurmountable. Plastic breaks down into something called microplastics. Microplastics are invisible particles found in air, water, and food. This is the natural way of biodegradation.
Plastic remains in the environment for hundreds of years. Eventually, it ends up in the food chain, beverages we drink, and the air we breathe. Microplastics are invisible so we’re none the wiser! So, it not only harms wildlife but also our children and then their children!
In addition, a chemical called Phthalates used in the manufacturing of plastic. It is used to make it soft, malleable and clear. This chemical does not bond to the plastic molecule itself. So, it easily releases into the environment and can enter our bodies.
Studies have shown that it can affect people’s longterm health and development. Early evidence suggests it disrupts the endocrine system affecting our hormones. Hormonal disruptions can cause infertility, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.
Furthermore, phthalates also affect the thyroid glands in girls. The thyroid gland affects the Cerebellum causing abnormalities. The Cerebellum is in charge of motor skills which delays learning abilities in girls. These are very good reasons for the reduction and eventual elimination of plastic. Hopefully, there’s a solution soon that replaces the need for plastic!
The step towards a sustainable future
Consequently, Unilever is trying to address plastic pollution issues. They know plastic is killing wildlife, devastating ecosystems, and harmful to human health. They plan to reduce packaging and better yet re-design the plastic packaging. So the new material would ensure the packaging could be reusable, recyclable, or biodegradable.
In 2019 Unilever worked to reduce the amount of virgin plastic in packaging by 50%. They have also committed to collect and process more plastic packaging then they sell by 2025.
These are the steps toward a more sustainable future. But it doesn’t solve plastic packaging. Unilever expects it can grow while improving the environment. However, it has proven difficult in the past and they haven’t fully adhered to their sustainability goals. (Sustainable Development Report 2009) Like any conventional company, they wish to have continual growth for the future.
In the past, the company was called out by Greenpeace in their report “Cooking the Climate.” Their reputations were damaged since they had been the largest buyers in Palm Oil which came from non-sustainable resources. They were essentially supporting the slash and burn of the Amazon Rainforest.
Unilever accounts for 8% of the world’s Palm Oil production. So, as of 2016, they’ve developed principles of sustainability in production. A transparency report called Sustainable Palm Oil Sourcing is guiding them in the right direction. This report outlines where and how they harvest the oil used for their products.
Unilever admits that “urgent action is needed on multiple fronts.” To restore its reputation Unilever asked it’s Indonesian supplier to stop buying Palm oil from rainforest plantations. The geographic location of Palm oil now plays a significant role and so does the treatment of local communities.
An economic revolution
Climate change has become a greater issue for large companies like Unilever. Water scarcity and extreme weather patterns have disrupted the supply chains increasing financial risks. Therefore they’re supporting initiatives that support the efforts to keep the temperature below 4 degrees.
The issue of rising temperatures comes partly from the extraction and processing of raw materials. This process accounts for half of the CO2 in the atmosphere. This takes a toll on human health and the environment. It’s also making an impact on Unilever’s bottom line.
Unilever works with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to support the circular economy. The circular economy is an economic system aimed at continually reusing resources and eliminating waste. However, only 8.6% of the world’s economy actually works as a circular economy!
The philosophy that all waste should be the energy needed to fulfill another purpose. It’s a closed-loop system that keeps resources in the system longer. In comparison to the take. make, and dispose model of production currently practiced around the world. It is a responsible way to deal with resource management.
We need to support more companies like them because they hold a powerful impact on your food. We shouldn’t need to investigate who is doing the right thing. It should be the only way to do business on this tiny planet with limited resources.
Brands to support
- Lever 2000
- Love Beauty and Planet
- Red Rose
- Ben and Jerry’s
- Seventh Generation
- Pure leaf
For a complete list of all Unilever brands see the link here. For Unilever, they’re working to change their old ways and better late than never! Become informed about food when it’s time to shop and cast your vote. Unilever is a progressive company looking to make a difference in the world. It is looking for ways to help the problem instead of creating social and environmental problems.
Learn more about who to support when you cast your vote for your next purchase. Changing the world will only happen now if we learn to be conscious shoppers… But, it’s not that easy when you can’t tell who is doing what! Find out who has a powerful impact on your food. Learning who and what will fill you with purpose. Find out who to trust in my last blog. It’s Shopping therapy!