The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan for

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Opportunities for women

The advancement of women’s rights and economic inclusion is a business priority.

Unilever is in a strong position to help empower women around the world: over 70% of our consumers are women and they play essential roles in our value chain. We also engage women as growers, distributors, and factory and office employees.

Globally it is acknowledged that economically empowering women creates a ripple effect on families, communities and economies1. Often, women are the change agents within the family. Women do 60% of the world’s work and earn only 10% of the world’s income, yet they reinvest 90% of income into their families2.

Empowering women has been recognised as key to the United Nations’ new 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (also known as the Global Goals). Unilever played an important role in bringing the voice of business into the formulation of these Global Goals. We advocated in particular for the adoption of a specific target on women’s empowerment. This is now Global Goal 5: to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Addressing barriers to gender equality is not just the right thing to do. It is also vital for our future growth. We consider the respect and promotion of women’s rights and the advancement of women’s economic inclusion a business priority. By promoting the formal and active participation of women in the economy, we aim to transform lives, families, communities and economies. In turn, we have the opportunity to grow our markets, brands and business.

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Targets & performance

We have set ambitious targets to empower 5 million women through a variety of initiatives.



By 2020, we will empower 5 million women by advancing opportunities for women in our operations; promoting safety; providing up-skilling; and expanding opportunities in our retail operations.


We have improved our gender balance, with the proportion of female managers reaching 45% in 2015. In partnership with others, by 2015 we had enabled around 800,000 women to access initiatives that aimed to develop their skills: 70,000 Shakti micro-entrepreneurs in India and around 730,000 women on tea smallholdings in Kenya and India.


Our approach to empowering women is based on the tripod of rights, skills and opportunities. Women’s rights must be respected and women need to be given the skills and opportunities to succeed.

Increasing agricultural yields and securing our supplies can be better achieved if women have fair and equal access to skills and opportunities. The impact of economically empowering women has a transforming effect on lifting families out of poverty.

Women’s empowerment is as a big opportunity for business growth but we also need entire systems change driven both by our own business activities and initiatives but also requiring dialogue with key stakeholders at the global and national levels. The insights and perspectives we gain from others are critical to our understanding of women's issues and priorities as we continue to develop our policies and practices.

  • Achieved: 0
  • On-plan: 5
  • Off-plan: 0
  • %% of target achieved: 1

Our targets

Please see Independent Assurance (EN) for more details of our assurance programme across the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.


We will build a gender-balanced organisation with a focus on management.

The percentage of persons of each sex who were Unilever managers was 55% male and 45% female by 2015.


Since 2009, we have been committed to building a gender-balanced organisation. We set a clear ambition to have 50% women in management positions by 2020.

Our progress on gender representation in management levels has been significant, moving from 38% in 2010 to 45% by the end of 2015. 25 countries have already achieved their gender balance targets for management levels. Women represent 50% of our board members, compared to 36% in 2014. By March 2016, we also had three women on the Unilever Executive.

Our initiatives have led to a significant uplift in the numbers of women being recruited and promoted. We need to maintain this pace in order to reach our goal by 2020.


We will promote safety for women in the communities where we operate.

(New target 2014)

In 2015, we enabled around 6,000 women to access initiatives that aimed to improve their safety.


We introduced a new target on safety in 2014 following our study in Kenya - which confirmed safety as a critical issue for women in the communities where we operate.

We continue to engage our workers and the wider community through awareness-raising and training on sexual harassment and strengthened grievance mechanisms.

Our approach continues to be systematic and inclusive, and we continue working alongside the communities where we operate. We do not yet have all the answers so continue to partner with others to raise awareness, provide more information on what constitutes sexual harassment, and advance more opportunities for girls to engage in social activities.

Working with others expands our impact and helps share knowledge. As an illustration of this, in 2015 we agreed a joint commitment with the International Union of Foodworkers/ IndustriAll to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, which is an essential foundation for a culture of inclusion and diversity.


We will enhance access to training and skills across our value chain.

(New target 2014)

In partnership with others, by 2015 we had enabled around 730,000 women on tea smallholdings in Kenya and India to access initiatives that aim to develop their skills.


Our target is critical for expanding female participation in the economy. We have enabled around 730,000 women on tea smallholdings in Kenya and India to access initiatives that aims to develop their skills.

Accessing training is one of major barriers to women’s participation in training. This is why our training is designed to encourage the full and equal participation of women, for example by being held at convenient times in accessible locations. We are also working with partners, which helps us reach more women and encourages mutual learning.

We take a holistic approach when providing access to training and skills, offering complementary training wherever possible. For example, we are developing agricultural training for smallholder farming families which is supplemented by training on nutrition with the aim of improving dietary diversity. Similarly, we are aiming to roll out financial literacy training for smallholder farmers where we have previously delivered other types of training.


  • We will expand opportunities for women in our value chain.

(New target 2014)

  • We will increase the number of Shakti entrepreneurs that we recruit, train and employ from 45,000 in 2010 to 75,000 in 2015.

70,000 Shakti micro-entrepreneurs trained to sell our products in India by end 2015.

93 70,000 Shakti micro-entrepreneurs selling our products in India by end 2015.

We operate similar schemes in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Vietnam which we are also committed to expanding.

(This target is now part of the wider Expand Opportunities target above)


From 2016 our Shakti ambitions are part of our wider target to expand opportunities for women in our value chain by 2020. Although we are on track to achieve this new larger target, we fell short of our original Shakti-specific target, reaching 70,000 rather than 75,000 women by 2015.

Our Shakti programme in India is a win-win initiative that catalyses rural affluence while benefiting our business: Shakti equips women to distribute our products in more than 165,000 villages, reaching over 4 million rural households.

Shakti has become our model to reach out to rural consumers on typically low-incomes in developing and emerging markets. We are adapting this model in several South-East Asian, African and Latin American markets. For example, in Nigeria 1,000 women have been trained to sell our products by end 2015 as part of our Gbemiga inititiative.


  • Achieved
  • On-Plan
  • Off-Plan
  • Of target achieved
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