Heroes of Procurement

We Helped Improve Hygiene and Cash Flow on a Global Scale

CIPS 18 June 2020

A multifaceted, global approach was adopted by Unilever during the pandemic to support employees, suppliers, charities and public services worldwide.

Unilever has delivered an arsenal of projects dedicated to aiding those affected by the coronavirus pandemic, including suppliers, global communities and public services. As the world’s largest soap company, it has used its reach, expertise and resources to spread awareness of the importance of hygiene, and assist with the need for increased support for supply chains and communities the world over.


  1. Supplier Relief Fund
  2. Ramping Up Production
  3. Distributing Donations
  4. Global Financial Support
washing hands

Image: © Unilever

The variety of efforts undertaken have demonstrated the full force of resources and operations. They include a £445.5m supplier cash flow relief fund, a global campaign to donate around £89m worth of soap, sanitiser, bleach and food to emergency organisations such as the Covid Action Platform of the World Economic Forum, hand sanitiser production, and a global handwashing education programme in collaboration with NGOs and national health authorities. Through all of these projects, Unilever aimed to respond to the pandemic without compromising ongoing supply chain programmes, such as sustainability.

Alan Jope, CEO at Unilever, says: “The world is facing its greatest trial in decades. We have seen the most incredible response from the Unilever team so far, especially those on the front line of our operations in factories, distribution centres and stores.”

 Supplier Relief Fund

A first quarter trading statement previously outlined that Unilever is focused on redeploying people to those parts of the business in high demand. It states: “We have been able to maintain the supply of products and we are keeping our factories running through the many unpredictable challenges in local operating environments across our value chain. We are also opening up new capacity where it is most needed, such as in hand hygiene and food.”

As many suppliers have been severely affected by Covid-19 – with 77% saying they are most concerned by cash flow – Unilever took action in March to implement a cash flow relief fund of approximately £445.5m. The monies have provided early payment for SMEs, assisted with financial liquidity, and worked with selected small retailers to extend credit and help to manage and protect jobs.

Jope says: “By helping to safeguard our workers’ incomes and jobs, we are giving some peace of mind during these uncertain times. Our strong cash flow and balance sheet mean we can, and should, give this additional support.”

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 Ramping Up Production

Since February, Unilever has adapted its manufacturing output, equipping more than 30 of its factories to make hand sanitiser, including a deodorant factory in Leeds, UK, which produced and donated 1,500 litres of sanitiser to local hospitals and social care services. On 2 April, the first batch, of 700 litres, was produced and distributed to St James’s University Hospital in Leeds.

Hand sanitisers were able to progress from laboratory trials to factory production in only four days due to the close communication and fast action of suppliers, which set up a shipment supplying more than 10,000 bulk containers of materials, packaging and labels in a matter of hours.

Jason Sutcliffe, Unilever beauty and personal care supply chain manager, who has been leading this initiative, says: “This has been a massive collective effort by teams within our business and our suppliers, while many are remote working.

“We have all wanted to get involved so we can do our bit to help those on the frontline. We’re just pleased we’re able to contribute in this way.”

New facilities have also been created to support global increased production, including a new Vietnam factory - set up in only 25 days - and the start of domestically produced products in South Africa, which were previously imported.

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 Distributing Donations

Unilever UK and Ireland brands together have provided around £3.1m worth of food and hygiene products, such as shampoo and soap, to charities, hospitals and disadvantaged people in the community. They worked with charities such as FareShare, InKind Direct and Community Shop to deliver the products. Separately, more than 60,000 personal care products were donated to homeless people as part of a UK initiative led by the NHS and national homeless charity Crisis, as well as 20,000 Pot Noodles for Scottish homeless charity Social Bite.

In the UK, Unilever organised 500,000 products to be delivered to Covid-19 designated hospitals and the homes of self-isolating NHS workers by courier service Yodel as part of the company’s Soothe & Care programme, in collaboration with the SalutetheNHS.org campaign. Unilever says: “The Dove, Vaseline, Simple and Radox products included have been specifically selected to help NHS doctors, nurses and staff care for their skin after long days wearing PPE.”

Meanwhile, in Ireland, Unilever worked with charity agencies such as Alone, Simon Community, Focus Ireland, St Vincent de Paul and Peter McVerry Trust to support frontline medical staff. Through this the company donated 170 pallets of essential food and cleaning products, as well as 2,000 care packs for acute and intensive care unit staff in 10 hospitals, as part of a partnership with Total Health Pharmacy Team and Calco Ireland Ltd.

Jope says: “We hope our donation of £89.1m of soap, sanitiser, bleach and food will make a significant contribution towards protecting people’s lives.”

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Image: © Unilever

woman holding pg tips

 Global Financial Support

On a larger scale, Unilever has adapted to the crisis by increasing supply and health and safety measures across several continents, such as North America, Asia and Africa and Australia. The United for America initiative is a prime example of the significant impact that has been made on vulnerable communities and public services. Through a collaborative relationship with charities, such as Feeding America and Direct Relief, provisions of food, hygiene products, medical supplies and other critical items worth £16.2m have been donated to various aid organisations.

It has also resulted in a donation of 1.86m items in the last two months to communities hit by the pandemic. Further, hospitals have received 200,000 face masks, while an additional £1.61m donation was given by brands Dove and Vaseline to non-profit Direct Relief for supplies of PPE, ventilators and medicines.

Meanwhile, sanitation in Africa has benefited from the increased resources and guidance Unilever has given to the public and hospitals, including brand partner Lifebuoy’s handwashing stations situated at bus terminals in Ghana for public transport users.

Also, the firm has provided additional support to its tea estate workers’ villages. Unilever says: “With over 60,000 workers and their dependents living in our tea estate villages in Kenya (Kericho brand) and Tanzania, we’ve worked with communities and authorities on safety protocols, upgraded our hospitals with extra ICU ventilators and built testing capacity.”

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