Unilever says it will sell off brands that harm the planet or society

Alan Jope, Unilever CEO Credit: Unilever

Unilever has reasserted its ‘purpose-led’ focus of recent years and warned shareholders it will sell off brands that do not contribute positively to society or the planet.

The warning came earlier this week in exchanges between Unilever’s newly installed CEO Alan Jope (pictured) and journalists. They follow earlier comments that public posturing on sustainability without real action to support it would be seen for what it was – a form of ‘woke washing‘.

Outlining Unilever’s thinking, Jope told reporters that its marketers had been told devise sustainable business plans for its portfolio of more than 400 brands. They would need to demonstrate a purpose beyond traditional financial goals to remain as part of portfolio over the long term, especially if they were found to be making environmental and societal demands that consumers increasingly find unacceptable. 

Can these brands figure out how to make society or the planet better in a way that lasts for decades?

“Can these brands figure out how to make society or the planet better in a way that lasts for decades?” asked Jope, adding that it was possible that some brands, or even a whole category, would not be able to ‘find its purpose”.

Jope’s aside that ‘principles are only principles if they cost you something’ has been interpreted by business commentators as a clear signal that the company is prepared to sell off profitable brands, taking a hit on the bottom line. 

As well bringing a number of its own leading brands inside its Sustainable Living programme, Unilever has in recent years acquired several pioneer natural and organic brands – Pukka Herbs, Schmidt’s Naturals and Mãe Terra among them – as part of its mission to recruit ‘purpose-led’ brands to its portfolio.