Global Oral Health InequalityOral diseases affect around half of the global population. Global oral health profiles show that the majority of those burdened by oral diseases are living in poverty, and this indicates an oral health inequality issue. Even more, standard oral health services are not readily available in many low-income and middle-income countries.

The Burden of Oral Diseases

In November 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) published the Global Oral Health Status Report which revealed the organization’s aim for universal health coverage for oral health by 2030. Following this report, in January 2023, was WHO’s Global Oral Health Action Plan.

These reports highlighted that oral diseases present a burden greater than the next five most prevalent non-communicable diseases combined. This burden primarily comes from untreated tooth decay, gum disease and cancers of the lip and oral cavities, all of which are largely preventable. According to the same reports, oral diseases such as gum disease may develop into other conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

Despite the fact that the global burden of oral diseases costs around $387 billion, only 4.6% of global health care expenditure goes toward dental and oral care. For this reason, the WHO emphasized the need for immediate interventions that focus on oral health.

Oral Health Inequality

The WHO’s reports outlined the first global oral health profile which highlighted that developing nations, particularly in the South-East Asian and Western Pacific regions, face the highest levels of oral health challenges. As reported by the organization, “oral diseases disproportionately affect the poor and socially disadvantaged.” Consequently, vulnerable groups face issues ranging from reduced productivity to school disruption, all of which can lead to poverty.

Multiple social, cultural, economic and behavioral factors contribute to the existing disparities in oral health. Developing countries undergoing social and cultural transformations are experiencing a surge in oral diseases due to lifestyle choices. Nevertheless, access to oral health care remains limited in these countries, and where available, it is often unaffordable and unsuitable for the majority of the population grappling with oral ailments. This highlights two key determinants of oral health inequality which are health care accessibility and lifestyle choices.

Oral Health Care Accessibility

The first significant determinant of oral health is the cost of available dental care and the disposable income of the population. At both national and global scales, there is a clear economically-based distribution of oral health care provision. Of the total number of dentists worldwide, only 1.4% work in low-income countries

According to the WHO’s report, the best way to ensure excellent oral health is to prioritize preventative measures. However, this relies on a health care system having the funds to sustain regular dental care and universal basic dental care coverage. As things stand, only the richest societies can afford a regular and sufficient supply of dental professionals and services. 

National governments and the international community could effectively combat economically-based oral health inequality and access to oral health care by funding more accessible and affordable health care for those in developing nations. A cost-effective approach promoted by the WHO involves the use of innovative digital health tools, such as telehealth and video-supported health. Teledentistry typically involves an online dental consultation that makes dental support more accessible to those who cannot get face-to-face care. For example, Unilever provides a teledentistry service in South-East Asia, with the aim of reaching over 200 million people. 

Lifestyle Choices

Another determinant of oral health inequality is the social and personal beliefs and habits people have around oral health. The consumption of sugar, alcohol and tobacco contributes to a range of non-communicable diseases that affect oral health. Additionally, a lack of education about oral hygiene can prevent people from taking the necessary personal care measures.

As a way to solve this problem, policymakers could focus on increasing health literacy and encouraging good oral hygiene among affected populations. Commercial advertising from large companies has been partly responsible for promoting habits like smoking and alcohol consumption, which can negatively impact oral health. The WHO suggests that these same companies hold the potential to promote beneficial habits such as those that support oral health among children and adults.

Digital Media and Oral Health

Low-income nations may not have the financial resources to implement effective media campaigns that focus on behavior change. However, the advent of digital media offers a potentially more accessible alternative. Online advertising campaigns are not only less costly, but they can also reach a wider audience.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Unilever collaborated with Cartoon Network to introduce an online educational program named Little Brush Big Brush. The program featured a series of videos that taught children about the significance of oral hygiene, with a particular emphasis on tooth brushing. Brushing teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste can decrease the risk of tooth decay by 90%. Programs like this have the potential to create significant change since they can reach a vast audience. For instance, 95% of the global internet population watches videos on YouTube alone.

Looking to the Future

Current global patterns show that those living in poverty are most at risk from preventable oral diseases. While face-to-face dental care may be unaffordable for many, the growth in access to the Internet provides a more cost-effective solution. Through the expansion of digital health care and online advertising to promote positive behavior changes, there is hope to reach a much wider audience and reduce oral health inequality for the present and the future.

– Polly Walton
Photo: Flickr

Ending the Cycle of Poverty and Obesity
The McDonald’s Big Mac, one of the most famous burgers around the world, has a fair list of tempting qualities. It comes with two pure beef patties, the special Big Mac sauce, lettuce, onions, pickles and melted American cheese, sandwiched between two sesame seed buns. Its taste is well-known and for many, a tempting meal choice. But, perhaps the most tempting quality of the Big Mac is its price. All 550 calories of the Big Mac come to a total of about $5.70 in the U.S. That price is even lower around the world. In fact, the Big Mac can cost as low as $1.86 in South Africa. That stands in stark contrast to the price of more healthy food options. For example, a gallon of organic whole milk costs $6.98 at Walmart, about 22% more than an entire Big Mac. Price differences in healthy versus processed foods lead to a difficult decision for the consumer, especially if they are from a low-income household. The healthy choice becomes hard. Does their economic position sentence them to Big Macs and processed food? It is time to end the cycle of poverty and obesity.

Why is Eating Healthy is Hard?

According to most recent estimates, about 734 million people live on less than $1.90 a day. Additionally, about four out of five Americans will experience poverty or economic hardship at some point in their lives. Hundreds of millions of people are struggling every day to make ends meet and the all too common casualty of their struggle is their health.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, eating healthy food costs about $1.50 more per day than eating a heavily processed diet. This number may seem small at first glance but adds up to an extra $2,200 per year for a family of four. They must choose between organic or conventional chicken, which can be a price difference of at least 50%. People living in poverty are simply unable to afford healthy food, resulting in a lack of nutrients, a diet lacking in energy-dense foods and even higher obesity rates.

The Link Between Poverty and Fitness

Food and exercise go hand in hand when it comes to overall physical health. Unfortunately, there is also a relationship between poverty and a lack of exercise. Nationwide studies have found that sedentary lifestyles are more prevalent in the poorest counties in the U.S. The correlation between inactivity and poverty is due to a myriad of reasons. For one, finances limit non-essential expenses like gym memberships, sports participation or paying for exercise equipment. Parks and sports facilities are also more regularly in affluent, not poor neighborhoods. One must even take safety into account because poor neighborhoods may have higher crime rates. The possibility of crime discourages parents from allowing their kids to play outside, discourages joggers and forces people to stay inside. Healthy food and sufficient exercise is a luxury. Many cannot afford such an expense to the detriment of their well-being.

The Cycle

Poverty can lead to obesity. Obesity can lead to poverty. The cycle of poverty and obesity together is a dangerous trap that imprisons many. For example, poverty leads to no access to healthy food and exercise, eventually leading to obesity. Obesity leads to further health complications and illnesses which may leave a person saddled with expensive medical bills. Lack of health, in general, leads to lower energy levels and even worsening mental health so that a person is unequipped with the energy and confidence to change their economic standing. Thus, obesity perpetuates poverty. The question is, how can society help break this dangerous cycle? Thankfully, some organizations are coming up with answers.


Unilever is an organization that both identified the problem and produced solutions. Its recognition of the cyclical relationship between obesity and poverty encouraged the organization to release meal plans and brands affordable to all types of incomes around the world. Unilever has dedicated itself to making food that is nutritious and delicious so that making a healthy choice is easy. Unilever’s brands include Knorr, Hellmann’s, Lipton and more. Its options are sustainable and affordable with prices below the market average. Unilever also sells food through discount channels and donates to food banks to expand healthy meals to all populations.

Low-income communities often do not receive the chance to be healthy. The lack of gyms and affordable food traps them in the cycle of poverty and obesity. Thankfully, other food brands, gyms and organizations reaching out to low-income communities have joined Unilever. They are expanding health to all demographics, pointing people away from poverty and towards health.

Abigail Gray
Photo: Flickr

skin bleaching in AfricaThe continent of Africa is revered as one of the most diverse continents on Earth, toting genetic, linguistic, cultural and phenotype diversity. Unfortunately, some of that diversity is lost when beauty standards are dictated by other cultures that are not native to Africa. Skin bleaching in Africa is one result. While many African women prefer to refer to this method as “heightening your glow” or “skin lightening,” it involves skin bleaching. Market trends project these bleaching products, many containing mercury, will make $31.2 billion in profits by 2024.

A Legacy of Colorism

Skin bleaching in Africa is not a new beauty phenomenon. The practice finds its roots in the transatlantic slave trade and continued during the European colonization of African nations. The caste systems that entitled European slave owners and traders to reduce African blacks to indentured servants perpetuated disparities in political status, wealth and beauty, furthering discrimination based on skin color.

The legacy of racist views which positions white Europeans as superior has remained a structural belief system among the women who choose to use the skin lightening products. They believe that darker skin is associated with unsatisfactory traits such as inferior beauty, education and social class. In other words, darker skin is stereotypically associated with a life of economic disadvantage and struggle. Consumers of these bleaching products, wanting fairer skin, believe they will achieve a higher level of social capital, be viewed as “pure” and more desirable for marriage.

Doctors who have studied the phenomena of skin bleaching in Africa have concluded that while some women bleach their skin for vanity reasons, others are very calculative in their decision. The retailers selling these products sometimes refer to and promote skin lightening creams as “up-marketing” one’s appearance. The pay-off comes in the form of job security, progress, and power. Skin bleaching in Africa is therefore a business-oriented decision. Anecdotally, the appearance of lighter skin means faster and easier access in landing higher paying jobs, particularly in sales and marketing.

Education Is Key: Addressing the Trend as a Public Health Problem

The messaging surrounding these products, whether via word of mouth or straight from the packaging, appear to be working. Data collected by the World Health Organization (WHO) determined that 40% of African women regularly use skin lightening or bleaching creams. The trend is not isolated to one specific region either. Nigeria leads the purchasing trend with 77% of women using skin bleaching products (cream and non-cream based), followed by 59% in Togo, 27% in Senegal and 25% in Mali. It’s estimated about one of every three women in South Africa uses the products, even though mercury-based products have been banned in the country since the late 1970s.

The modality for these products used in skin bleaching in Africa varies by age group as well. While the older generation prefers lotions and creams, the younger generation opts for injections and pills such as glutathione capsules. More concerning is pregnant women’s use of glutathione capsules to manipulate the skin tones of unborn children.

Common health issues related to regular use of skin lightening products are mostly topical, but nonetheless dangerous. The most common side effect of topical lotions and creams is skin thinning due to the high-dose steroid, hydroquinone and mercury ingredients. Other effects include burning, scaling, scarring and boils. These applied products can also trigger further skin discoloration, also known as exogenous ochronosis, or blue-black pigmentation of the affected areas. Other, more serious health issues including blood cancers like leukemia and cancers of the liver and kidneys have prompted doctors monitoring the skin bleaching trend to call the phenomenon a public health crisis.

Appreciating Natural Beauty

African nations spread across the continent are moving toward full or partial bans against skin bleaching creams and lotions, citing their dangerous topical and chronic health implications. Most notably, the countries of Rwanda, Ghana and the Ivory Coast have banned these products. More recently, the #BlackLivesMatter protests have prompted top beauty and skin brands such as Unilever and Johnson & Johnson to scrub manipulative marketing and even pull some products promoting fairer skin from their portfolios.

Unfortunately, skin bleaching in Africa is persistent, even in countries where these products are banned. Many experts and medical professionals assert that in order to fully eliminate the skin bleaching industry, the idolatry of fair or white skin needs to be eliminated. In other words, we must create a world where dark-skinned women are welcome in all spheres of society, not discriminated against. Thankfully, a number of nonprofit organizations, including The Beautywell Project and Melanin Foundation, are tackling skin bleaching in Africa and its harmful effects.

– Vicki Colbert
Photo: Flickr

Burn design lab
Cookstove visionary Peter Scott initially started Burn Design Lab (BDL) in 2010. After growing concerned about the deforestation issue in Africa, Scott became determined to develop the world’s best cookstoves. With parts from Bob Powell’s metal shop Meadow Creature and a workplace in Vashon’s Sheffield Building, BDL was ready to expand and test new designs. In 2013, Paul Means joined BDL as Research & Testing Manager, and between 2013-2016, a natural draft wood stove—which would become the Kuniokoa—came to be. By 2015, Peter Scott had left BDL to work with Burn Manufacturing Company to create a charcoal-burning stove. Now under Mean’s leadership, BDL has expanded its partnerships to Kenya, the Philippines, Guatemala and Ghana.

Burn Design Lab’s Process

Over time, BDL has established a detailed iterative approach to its development process. Instead of a hard step-by-step process of stages, the group has adopted more of a cyclical process. One cycle consists of conceptual design, computer-aided design, prototype fabrication, user research and laboratory and field testing. After a cycle, testing results and user input then goes back into the process to further improve the design. An iterative approach makes versioning easier and guarantees every step. Though this process may seem lengthy and repetitive, it offers a rapid turnaround and is easily adaptable. With this plan in mind, BDL has been very successful approaching many of its beneficent products.

Past Projects

In the past, Burn Design Lab has been quite successful executing different plans and solutions. In partnership with Burn Manufacturing Co. in Kenya, BDL developed in The Kunioka in 2016 for use in East Africa. With financial support from the U.S. Department of Energy and investments from Unilever and Acumen, this wood-burning stove revolutionized Kenya and Tanzania’s agriculture industry. Not only was this stove incredibly eco-friendly, but it was also cost-effective for farmers and plantation workers at only approximately $38.

In addition to its past projects such as The Kunioka, BDL has also been successful in its current endeavors. Right now, BDL has a partnership with the Burro Brand Ltc. to develop an improved shea roaster for the citizens of Ghana. The current process for roasting shea kernels is very unsustainable and has many health consequences. BDL and Burro have worked through many design and testing iterations to produce the best product for utilization. The goals of the project include reducing wood fuel consumption by 40 percent and reducing carbon emissions by 90 percent. As one can see, BDL has worked tirelessly to produce cookstoves that are both sustainable and secure.

Lasting Impact

Burn Design Lab has created a profound solution to a global problem. According to National Geographic, some three billion people cook with open or barely contained fires, leading to many negative consequences such as smoke inhalation. Other health concerns that people associate with this cooking style are respiratory infections, eye damage, heart and lung disease and lung cancer. As a matter of fact, open cooking fires produce about 400 cigarettes worth of smoke an hour. Sadly, those in low and middle-income countries must resort to this as they do not have easy access to reliable and sustainable energy.

BDL has made it its mission to design clean-burning cookstoves that release fewer emissions and require less fuel. With support and determination, Burn Design Lab is saving lives, promoting economic empowerment in developing nations and fighting deforestation.

–  Srihita Adabala
Photo: Flickr

Living WagesIn late September 2015, Oxfam U.K. released a report highlighting the need for living wages in order for people to escape from poverty. The report utilizes information obtained through research in Morocco, Vietnam, Myanmar, Kenya and Malawi.

Employment is a critical tool to help people earn an income, but, as Oxfam finds, employment is not the cure when so many businesses pay below a living wage level and/or force people to work overtime, as was the case with many of those surveyed for this research.

Consequently, many suffer from in-work poverty.

Furthermore, the report takes note of the burden of unpaid care work for those supporting families. These additional hours (approximately six per day for women and one per day for men) place stress on workers.

Since, according to Oxfam, most of the workers in in-work poverty are women, creating living wages would produce positive benefits for families and children.

The report also highlights income inequality, citing a January 2015 report that 1 percent of the world’s population holds 99 percent of the world’s wealth. Income inequality is even more drastic at the very top; 85 people hold half of the world’s wealth.

Oxfam conducted longitudinal studies with both qualitative and quantitative data in five countries. Across countries, it was clear that a living wage would improve people’s health, well-being and worker productivity.

In Morocco, female strawberry pickers’ working conditions were studied. It was found that women did not earn living wages, and because many lacked identity documents, they had no way to assert their right to living wages.

In Malawi, tea pluckers who worked for companies involved in the Ethical Tea Partnership were studied. While they often made more than the minimum wage and received in-kind benefits for their labor, raising workers’ wages to a living wage would drastically improve workers’ abilities to feed their families.

In Kenya, agricultural workers were studied. While workers make the minimum wage, there is a large gap between the minimum wage and a living wage. For the typical unskilled agricultural worker who works nine hours a day, six days a week, this small increase in wages would accumulate into substantial improvements toward his or her livelihood.

Oxfam’s focus in Vietnam was on the companies that were part of Unilever’s supply chain. While Unilever headquarters assumed that employees were being paid living wages, they were not. Presently, Unilever is taking action to increase transparency and accountability in its supply chain.

In Myanmar, garment workers were studied; 90 percent of respondents were women. For many women, working overtime was the only way to make ends meet. Currently, Oxfam is working with corporations and the Myanmar government to develop a living wage for garment workers.

Overall, there is a great need to increase accountability in global supply chains, ensure living wages for all workers and raise awareness of labor rights for workers in developing nations.

The living wages for most of these countries were around $3 to $4 per worker per day, barely above the poverty line. However, the difference in livelihood for those making a living wage versus those who don’t is substantial.

Hopefully, as Oxfam suggests, corporation accountability for global supply chains will increase, as will government involvement to implement and regulate policies supporting labor rights. For consumers, this report is another reminder of globalization and how our purchases affect those a world away.

Priscilla McCelvey

Sources: Ethical Trading Initiative, Oxfam
Photo: Pixabay

Today, cities in Africa are rapidly urbanizing. The population is growing faster than infrastructure is being built, which causes a shortage of sewage and sanitation systems, especially in impoverished areas.

Over 2.6 billion people do not have access to sanitation. Every day, thousands of tons of feces are not disposed of properly, polluting water and spreading diseases among women and children.

Every year, 1.8 million people die from waterborne diarrheal diseases. Ninety percent of these deaths are children under five-years-old.

Clean Team Ghana has made it their mission to fix this sanitation crisis. The company has invented an inexpensive toilet service to help low-income citizens.

“People of all ages, regardless of circumstance, deserve the right to perform their necessary bodily functions in safety, without the risk of spreading or contracting disease. Our mission is to ensure as many people as possible can enjoy that right,” explains the company’s website.

Kumasi, where Clean Team Ghana has focused its efforts, is Ghana’s second-largest city; here, rapid urbanization and development issues are rampant. Unplanned slum areas do not have any type of sewer system. Half of the population of Kumasi uses public toilet blocks.

According to How We Made it in Africa, public toilet blocks are “often over-burdened, poorly maintained and unhygienic. Those that cannot brave the stench would prefer to do their business openly–or in packets that are then thrown into gutters, polluting water supplies and causing diseases such as cholera.”

Families without proper sewage can rent out Clean Team Ghana’s portable toilets, which the company installs and treats three times per week, exchanging the used canister for a fresh one. The dirty canister is treated at a processing site and reused.

One toilet provides service to five to seven people, and only costs $2.50 to install. The service costs a family $8.90 a month for one toilet. Clean Team Ghana offers weekly payment services, as very few customers earn monthly salaries.

“Most of our customers are traders and earn daily sums of money, maybe even weekly sums. So we have account managers who visit these customers at least once a week so they can pay in bits,” said Clean Team Ghana CEO Abigail Aruna.

The toilets are odorless: the company uses chemicals to mask the smell. They do not require water or pipes, only some space.

So far, Clean Team Ghana has installed over 1,000 toilets across Kumasi. The company aims to install 1,500 more by the end of 2015. Clean Team Ghana markets their toilets by going door-to-door in settlements and explaining how the toilet works.

Aruna believes that in the next few years, Clean Team Ghana can install 10,000 toilets in Kumasi. Once they reach 10,000, the company plans to expand to other cities in Ghana.

“Research is ongoing around that. There are regional differences and we will take them into consideration before we expand. The situation in Kumasi is quite different from the situation in Accra or in Tamale, or in other towns,” explained Aruna.

Clean Team Ghana began when the nonprofit Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor partnered with Unilever, a company that produces cleaning agents. designed the toilets, and at the beginning of 2012, the project was funded by the Stone Family Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Innovative ideas like ours are really necessary in Ghana and other African countries that cannot afford to put adequate sewage systems in place in their towns and cities. So I think the future of Clean Team Ghana and other sanitation companies is very bright–and is a way forward to solve the sanitation issues in Africa for now,” said Aruna.

Margaret Anderson

Sources: How we made it in Africa, Clean Team Toilets
Photo: Core 77

z1 Borgen Project
In Africa, there are many foreign corporations investing in and fueling industry, many of which are part of extractive industries that may not be economically beneficial for the continent in the long run. A company that stands apart from this ilk is Unilever.

Unilever is a British-Dutch multinational consumer goods corporation whose products reach 2 billion consumers in over 190 countries, making it one of the world’s top 500 largest corporations. Unilever has been in Africa for over a century and produces annual sales there of more than $5 billion, employing 40,000 people on the continent in offices and building factories in 40 locations.

This megalithic corporation has built an impressive reputation for itself. FORTUNE Magazine consistently recognizes Unilever among the World’s Most Admired Consumer Food Product Companies and in 2013 recognized Unilever as a Top 50 World’s Most Admired Company. Much of this admiration stems from the numerous gender diversity and environmental sustainability awards Unilever has garnered over the years.

Despite these accolades, criticisms are aplenty and certain truths are unavoidable. For example, Unilever’s biggest purchases are palm oil, soya, paper and beef. These are commodities whose global trade is responsible for 50 percent of global tropical deforestation, admitted Gavin Nearth, senior vice president of sustainability at Unilever.

Significantly, these criticisms are not necessarily thrown in a dark corner at Unilever with the hope that they will wither and die. There is an acknowledgement that the vast corporation’s practices have enormous environmental and social impacts that have not been, and still are not in many instances, sustainable.

Yet things do seem to be changing. In 2009, Paul Polman, previously an executive at Nestle and before, Proctor & Gamble, became Chief Operating Officer of Unilever. Within a year he introduced the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, a series of goals that aim to transform the company by doubling its size while increasing its positive social impact and reducing its environmental footprint by 50 percent. Despite the worry of many stockholders, according to Financial Times, Mr. Polman believes that these goals are necessary to maintain a “license to operate” in an age of public scrutiny.

Increasing social impact includes increasing workplace rights, ensuring that women get a fair deal and improving health and well-being for more than 1 billion people. Reduction of Unilever’s environmental footprint entails ensuring that their products and supply chain meet environmental requirements covering everything from forest protection to pest control. The impact of working toward these goals will manifest in Unilever’s sizable African operation.

Furthermore, Unilever’s business model in Africa impacts the African poor. According to Frank Braeken, Unilever Executive Vice President for Africa, “There is a growing realization that the future of Africa is based around a consumer rather than mining. This is a consumer that has been under-served and over-charged.” For Mr. Braekan, there are hundreds of millions of untouched consumers, most of whom are low-income, known as bottom of the pyramid (BOP), consumers.

A method through which Unilever reaches BOP consumers is low unit packs (LUPs). These are small consumer goods, worth as little as half a cent. Small shop owners buy goods from Unilever companies in large packs and resell them in smaller portions.

LUPs is just one method by which Unilever plans to meet Africa’s poor and their needs. In conjunction with its vast operations on the continent and increasingly sustainable business model, Unilever will be able to be quite the developing force in Africa.

– Connor Bohannan

Sources: BDlive, Financial Times, How We Made It in Africa, Telegraph, Unilever
Photo: Telegraph

hand washing programs
Washing hands is the most cost-effective way to prevent child deaths from diarrhea and pneumonia, which cause 2.1 billion child deaths per year. The campaign “Help a Child Reach 5” is reducing child deaths through hand washing programs to teach children the importance of washing their hands multiple times a day with soap.

Lifebuoy is a health soap by Unilever, that according to Samir Singh, the brand’s Vice President, is combining a social mission with their brand’s core values to make lifesaving changes happen quickly. Unilever’s goal is to change more than one billion people’s hygiene habits by 2020.

After Thesgora, a village in India with one of the highest rates of diarrhea, went through the program, children began washing their hands two more times per day than before. Rates of diarrhea fell drastically from 36 percent to just five percent. Even the mothers were positively affected, as 33% more mothers began washing their hands more often.

A clinical trial was tested on 2,000 families in Mumbai. By targeting for children five years of age and providing free soap, hand washing with soap increased up to 10 times after the program took place. The health benefits were also incredible. Rates of diarrhea decreased by 25 percent, there was a 15 percent decrease in acute respiratory infections and an astonishing 46 percent decrease in eye infections.

Unilever attributes their success to a few fundamental ideas. The first is that by combining scientific fact with behavior-change theories and effectively communicating with consumers, successful changes can be made. Another reason why their programs have been so effective is because of the way they approach teaching. Unilever ensures that the programs are culturally appropriate and focused on fun if geared towards kids. In addition to gearing programs towards kids, Unilever recognizes that reaching the child’s influencers such as teachers, mothers and siblings is equally as important for children to maintain good hygiene practices.

Unilever is well on their way to achieving their goal through their Lifebuoy programs and others currently in place that provide safe drinking water and teach oral hygiene. According to their Sustainable Living Report published earlier this year, they managed to reach 303 million people by the end of 2013,

It’s programs like these that are helping the 2.5 billion people around the world that lack the effective sanitation, good hygiene practices and safe drinking water gain the essential tools to combat preventable deadly diseases such as diarrhea and pneumonia.

Kim Tierney

Sources: Unilever 1, Unilever 2, The Guardian
Photo: Coverall

B Corp Certification for Socially-Responsible BusinessesAs Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) grows, wouldn’t it be great if consumers could have clear indicators of which companies and products were part of this beneficial social movement? There is – B Corp Certification.  A concept introduced five years ago, B Corp is “like the Fair Trade label but for a whole company, not just a bag of coffee,” said co-founder Jay Coen Gilbert.

The organization certifies companies once they have met standards of social and environmental performance and have changed their bylaws to take into account the impact of their decisions on the environment, community, and employees. “Increasingly there are businesses that want to create value for all their stakeholders, not just their shareholders,” said Andrew Kassoy, another of B Corp’s founders. “These companies are competing not just to be the best in the world, but best for the world.”

About 650 companies have embraced the status so far, including Patagonia, Etsy, and most recently Ben & Jerry’s, one of the original socially driven companies (now owned by Unilever). Mr. Kassoy called Ben & Jerry’s news a “big deal,” and hoped Unilever’s decision to pursue B Corp certification would “influence other multinationals” to do the same.

David Griswold, the founder of Sustainable Harvest, a Portland-based coffee importer, knew from the beginning that he wanted to start a project to help others. But he also saw challenges to the success of starting a non-profit – not being able to “reach scale.” They needed significant investment from the beginning to accomplish their mission, and they needed money to grow. “It was only when my company grew, and I began to reinvest my earnings in coffee communities abroad, that I saw I could really make a difference.” He said he felt that a for-profit business would work best for his goals.

B Corp certification helps with giving “legitimacy” to for-profit businesses that want to prove their moral sincerity, especially when trying to partner with non-profit foundations to increase their community development.  It also helps explain to investors why they operate as they do to secure more capital, and allows consumers to make educated buying choices.

Devin Hibbard, a B Corp supporter and owner of Beads For Life – a non-profit that operates “very much” like a business, says, in the end “it’s all about poverty eradication” through commerce.

– Mary Purcell

Source: The New York Times
Video: You Tube

Citizens of the world are less and less supportive of capitalism solely based on maximizing short-term profits. More and more companies are acknowledging their obligation to all the participants in their business, from the shareholders, to the employees, to the communities they operate in. Unilever is one such company, realizing and owning their need to contribute to the societal welfare and environmental impact for the countries it operates in. They want to propose a new model of capitalism that focuses on the long term, in which companies try to solve social and environmental problems and give equal importance to the needs of communities, as well as their shareholders.

Unilever has over 400 brands worldwide under its umbrella, ranging from foods to household cleaners, including Lipton, Knorr, Dove, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream; sold in almost every country, with two billion people using a Unilever product every day. Their huge distribution network enables them to make huge changes on a massive scale.

They have developed a range of initiatives that both help people as well has support their business’s growth. One focus is on hygiene, where public health specialists advise that the most effective intervention is to encourage hand washing at key times of the day – before and after eating, etc. Unilever developed the brand Lifebuoy with a marketing strategy based on campaigns to educate mothers and children to adopt this simple gesture. Trial programs in Mumbai, India have shown that, compared to control groups, those who benefited from the change in behavior were 25% less likely to suffer from diarrhea and were less absent from school for medical reasons. The campaign is now being expanded to Southeast Asia and Africa. It has a triple advantage – the consumer is healthier, the company sees a decline in health care costs for its employees, and Unilever benefits from increased sales of soap.

Unilever’s greatest impact is within the agricultural sector. Worldwide, the company purchases 12% of the world’s black tea, 3% of the tomatoes, and 3% of the palm oil. They have committed to halve their environmental footprint by 2020, and source 100% of their agricultural raw materials sustainably while enhancing the livelihoods of people across their value chain.

A third sphere of influence is in economic development through engagement and strengthening of their small-business affiliates. Unilever is connected with more than one million small farmers alone. They are able to work directly with the farmers to improve their productivity through a partnership with local and international organizations, expand their distribution efficiency, and train them in new techniques. Oxfam estimates the number of small-businesses that Unilever touches is more than half a billion, and improving their lives and businesses is an effective way to reduce poverty.

And, this April 9th – you can get free ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s, as they “give back” to their communities all over the world.

– Mary Purcell

Source: UN ITC