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Unilever is a multinational corporation, formed of Britishmarker and Dutchmarker parentage, that owns many of the world's consumer product brands in foods, beverages, cleaning agents and personal care products. Unilever employed 174,000 people and had a worldwide revenue of 40.5 billion in 2008.

Unilever is a dual-listed company consisting of Unilever NV in Rotterdammarker, The Netherlands and Unilever PLC in London, United Kingdom. This arrangement is similar to that of Reed Elsevier, and that of Royal Dutch Shell prior to their unified structure. Both Unilever companies have the same directors and effectively operate as a single business. The current non-executive Chairman of Unilever N.V. and PLC is Michael Treschow while Paul Polman is Group Chief Executive.

Unilever's main competitors include Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, Kraft Foods, S.C. Johnson & Son, Reckitt Benckiser and Henkel.


Unilever was created in 1930 by the amalgamation of the operations of British soapmaker Lever Brothers and Dutch margarine producer Margarine Unie, a merger as palm oil was a major raw material for both margarines and soaps and could be imported more efficiently in larger quantities.

In the 1930s the business of Unilever grew and new ventures were launched in Latin America. In 1972 Unilever purchased A&W Restaurants' Canadian division but sold its shares through a management buyout to former A&W Food Services of Canada CEO Jeffrey Mooney in July 1996. By 1980 soap and edible fats contributed just 40% of profits, compared with an original 90%. In 1984 the company bought the brand Brooke Bond (maker of PG Tips tea).

In 1987 Unilever strengthened its position in the world skin care market by acquiring Chesebrough-Ponds, the maker of Ragú, Pond's, Aqua-Net, Cutex Nail Polish, and Vaseline. In 1989 Unilever bought Calvin Klein Cosmetics, Fabergé, and Elizabeth Arden, but the latter was later sold (in 2000) to FFI Fragrances.

In 1996 Unilever purchased Helene Curtis Industries, giving the company "a powerful new presence in the United States shampoo and deodorant market". The purchase brought Unilever the Suave and Finesse hair-care product brands and Degree deodorant brand.

Global employment at Unilever 2000-2008

Black represents employment numbers in Europe, light grey represents the Americas and dark grey represents Asia, Africa, and Middle East.
Between 2000 and 2008 Unilever reduced global workforce numbers by 41%, from 295,000 to 174,000.
Note: Europe figures for 2000-2003 are all Europe; from 2004 figures in black are Western Europe.
For 2004-2008 Figures for Asia, Africa and Middle East include Eastern and Central Europe.

Source: Unilever Annual Reports 2004, 2008
2000 the company absorbed the American business Best Foods, strengthening its presence in North America and extending its portfolio of foods brands. In April 2000 it bought both Ben & Jerry's and Slim Fast.

The company is fully multinational with operating companies and factories on every continent (except Antarctica) and research laboratories at Colworthmarker and Port Sunlightmarker in England; Vlaardingenmarker in the Netherlands; Trumbull, Connecticutmarker, and Englewood Cliffs, New Jerseymarker in the United States; Bangaloremarker in India (see also Hindustan Unilever Limited); Pakistanmarker; and Shanghai in China.

The US division continued to carry the Lever Brothers name until the 1990s, when it adopted the parent company's moniker. The American unit now has headquarters in New Jersey, and no longer maintains a presence at Lever Housemarker, the iconic skyscraper on Park Avenue in New York City.

Unilever's Lipton brand
company promotes sustainability and started a sustainable agriculture programme in 1998. In May 2007 it became the first tea company to commit to sourcing all its tea in a sustainable manner, employing the Rainforest Alliance, an international environmental NGO, to certify its tea estates in East Africa, as well as third-party suppliers in Africa and other parts of the world. It declared its aim to have all Lipton Yellow Label and PG Tips tea bags sold in Western Europe certified by 2010, followed by all Lipton tea bags globally by 2015.

Covalence, an ethical reputation ranking agency, placed Unilever at the top of its ranking based on positive versus negative news coverage for 2007.

In 2008 Unilever was honoured at the 59th Annual Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards for "Outstanding Achievement in Advanced Media Technology for Creation and Distribution of Interactive Commercial Advertising Delivered Through Digital Set Top Boxes" for its program Axe: Boost Your ESP.


Unilever owns more than 400 brands as a result of acquisitions, however, the company focuses on what are called the "billion-dollar brands", 13 brands which each achieve annual sales in excess of €1 billion. Unilever's top 25 brands account for more than 70% of sales. The brands fall almost entirely into two categories: Food and Beverages, and Home and Personal Care.


The Heartbrand logo accompanying various brands of Unilever ice creams

Unilever is the world's biggest ice cream manufacturer, with an annual turnover of €5 billion. Except for Popsicle, Klondike, Ocean Spray ice cream, Slim Fast ice cream, Breyers, Starbucks and Ben & Jerry's, all of its ice cream business is done under the "Heartbrand" brand umbrella, so called because of its heart-shaped logo. Unilever currently operates eleven ice cream factories in Europe; the biggest include factories at Heppenheimmarker in Germany, Caivanomarker in Italy, St. Diziermarker in France and Gloucestermarker in the United Kingdom.

The Heartbrand was launched in 1999 (and slightly modified in 2002) as an effort to increase international brand awareness and promote cross-border synergies in manufacturing and marketing ("centralisation"). It is present in more than 40 countries. Although the logo is common worldwide, each country retained the local brand so as to keep the familiarity built over the years, one notable exception being Hungary where the previous Eskimo brand was replaced with Algida in 2003.

In 2005, Glidat Strauss received special permission from Unilever to export their brand of ice cream to the United States because of the strict kosher certification the products in Israelmarker have. Under terms of the agreement, Strauss ice cream and krembo may be sold only in kosher supermarkets and import shops. It is distributed in North America by Dairy Delight, a subsidiary of Norman's Dairy.

A freezer in Queens, NY filled with Strauss ice cream from Israel with the Heartbrand
Prior to the heart logo, each country could choose its own logo, although the most common one consisted of a blue circle with the local brand's name over a background of red and white stripes; second most common old logo, used by Wall's in the UK and other countries, was a yellow logo with Wall's in blue text.

Unilever generally manufactures the same ice-cream with the same names, with rare occasions of regional availability, under different brands. Some of these ice-creams include Carte D'Or, Cornetto, Magnum, Solero and Viennetta.


Unilever has produced many advertising campaigns, including:
  • Lynx/Axe click advert with Nick Lachey
  • PG Tips Monkey and Al
  • Knorr Chicken Tonight, 'I feel like chicken tonight'
  • Flora London Marathon
  • Knorr global brand
  • Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, including Evolution
  • Calve Pindakaas (peanut butter) in the Netherlands
  • Comfort Pure recommended by mothercare
  • Clear Anti-Dandruff shampoo and conditioner with the entertainer Rain
  • Clear Anti-Dandruff shampoo and conditioner with the entertainer Nicole Scherzinger
  • Clear Soft and Shiny shampoo and conditioner with the actress Sandra Dewi

Corporate governance

Unilever's highest executive body is called the Unilever Executive which is led by the Group Chief Executive (Paul Polman). It is responsible for delivering profit and growth across the company.

Members of the Unilever Executive include:

Executive and non-executive directors at Unilever are:


Unilever has attracted a variety of criticisms from political, environmental and human rights activists. For example, it has been criticised by Greenpeace for causing deforestation, for testing products on animals by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and for making use of child labour, among others.


Unilever was targeted in 2008 by Greenpeace UK, which criticised the company for buying palm oil from suppliers that are damaging Indonesia's rainforests. Unilever, as a founding member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, responded by publicizing its plan to obtain its palm oil from sources that are certified as sustainable.

In Côte d'Ivoiremarker, one of Unilever's palm oil suppliers was accused of clearing forest for plantations, an activity that threatens a primate species, Miss Waldron's Red Colobus. Unilever intervened to halt the clearances pending the results of an environmental assessment.


Unilever has been criticised by international commentators such as Corpwatch for failing to live up to the environmental standards it proclaims especially when operating in developing countries such as India.In India Unilever operates through its subsidiary Hindustan Unilever.

Involvement in race issues

According to The Daily Telegraph, Hindustan Unilever, an Indian company that is majority owned by Unilever, was forced to withdraw television advertisements for its women's skin-lightening cream, Fair and Lovely. Advertisements depicted depressed, dark-skinned women, who had been ignored by employers and men, suddenly finding new boyfriends and glamorous careers after the cream had lightened their skin.

According to the Austrian Newspaper Der Standard and the Austrian Broadcasting Company, the Austrian branch of Unilever (Eskimo) is producing and marketing an ice-cream under the name Mohr im Hemd. "Mohr" (moor), as a colonial German word for African or black people, has a heavily colonialist and racist connotation. "Mohr im Hemd" (moor in the shirt) is a traditional Austrian chocolate speciality which refers to naked, "wild" Africans. Unilever refutes any racist intentions and claims that it has tested the name in broad market studies in Austria without any critical feedback.

Dumping of mercury at Kodaikkanal

Unilever was accused by Greenpeace of double standards and negligence for allowing its Indian subsidiary, Hindustan Lever, to dump several tonnes of highly toxic mercury waste in the tourist resort of Kodaikanalmarker and the surrounding protected nature reserve of Pambar Shola, in Tamilnadu, Southern India.

Greenpeace activists and concerned residents cordoned off a contaminated dump site in the centre of Kodaikanal to protect people from the mercury wastes that had been discarded in open or torn sacks by Hindustan Lever which manufactures mercury thermometers for export, mainly to the United States. According to Hindustan Lever, from there, the thermometers are sold to Germany, UK, Spain, USA, Australia and Canada. The factory, set up in 1977, imported from the United States, after the US factory was shut down for ‘unknown reasons’.


The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood criticized Unilever for the 2007 Axe marketing campaign, which they considered sexist. Unilever's response is that the Axe campaign is intended as a spoof and "not meant to be taken literally". Critics noted that, to the contrary, Unilever had launched the contradicting Dove "Real Beauty" marketing campaign, which encouraged women to reject the underfed and hyper-sexualized images of modern advertising, around the same time, Contradicting and de-bunking previous claims of sexism.

Trade unions

Trade unions representing Unilever employees around the globe have registered a number of complaints about the company, including tens of thousands of job losses in recent years. Many former Unilever employees are now outsourced, leading unions to write about "the vanishing Unilever worker". In one example of such a dispute, in September 2008 Unilever Pakistan called in police and paramilitary as a union protested job transfers to a third party. In December 2007 a global trade union day of action against Unilever was called. In early October 2008, the global union federation representing food workers, the IUF, launched a new global website focusing on these issues called UnileverWatch.


Unilever owned 51% of Beigel and Beigel, a bakery in the Barkan Industrial Parkmarker which employs Israeli and Palestinian workers. It is in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. In 2008 it announced it would be divesting its ownership in the factory.

Popular media

The band Chumbawamba has a song critical of Unilever, named after the company.

See also


  1. Unilever Annual Report 2008
  2. Chronolgy of A&W Root Beer Canada
  3. New York Times, February 15, 1996 "Unilever Agrees to Buy Helene Curtis".
  4. Id.
  5. Ethical Corporation article
  6. Unilever's sustainable agriculture programme
  7. San Diego Times
  8. Unilver: Sustainable Tea
  9. Unilever press release
  10. Covalence Ethical Ranking 2007 Press Release, 2 January 2008
  11. 59th Annual Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards
  12. 2008 Annual Report and Accounts pp.2-3.
  13. India's hue and cry over paler skin - Telegraph
  14. Der Standard: "I will mohr!: Werberat prüft"
  15. FM4: "Will i mohr?"
  16. [1]
  17. Ax the Axe Campaign
  18. Unilever Shuns Stereotypes of Women (Unless Talking to Men) - New York Times
  19. Unilever Disrobed: Interview With Dove/Axe Mashup Artist
  20. Unilever Day of Action: Unions Demonstrate Global Solidarity in Opposition to Massive Job Cuts
  21. Unilever Watch
  22. Who profits? Beigel and Beigel
  23. Unilever to sell stake in plant based in West Bank settlement The Guardian 1 December 2008

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