CEO of Unilever Paul Polman wants countries to spend more money on solving the food shortage in the world, which would require about 60 billion euro each year. “We have spent more – and I’m not saying if that is wrong or not – bailing out Greece or Portugal. It is not a trade-off, not an either-or, but it just puts it in perspective”, he said in an interview with The Independent.
Plans involving corporate responsibility
As a child Polman (56) wanted to be a priest or a doctor. But things turned out differently: he went to work in consumer goods. First at Procter & Gamble, than as financial director of Nestlé, to end up leading Unilever. It still may be the reason why he strongly focuses on corporate responsibility.
That focus shows up in several projects. The bouillon cubes of the company are enriched with iron and iodine to prevent dwarfism. Another project is trying to improve working conditions of employees of tea plantations, like in Tanzania. “How can we train all those smallhold farmers, how can we can get sustainable practices in soil management, water management and infrastructure to be competitive, for the port to be upgraded efficiently, land to be set aside – the whole ecosystem?,” said Polman.
In the margin of G8 summit
Last weekend Polman hosted the top of the New Alliance on Food Security and Nutrition about world hunger at the British headquarters of Unilever. This is an initiative that was started by the G8 which, next to several governments, involves several companies such as Cargill, Syngenta and Monsanto. Its intention is to help 50 million people out of poverty by 2022. The meeting was held only a few days before the summit of the G8 in Northern Ireland.
The summit delivered a promise of about 3.17 billion euro for projects. A big part of it – about 600 million euro – came from British hedge fund TCI.
“Cynicism lowest form of taking responsibility”
The summit was the opportunity for Polman to reach out to the British government, together with Peter Brabeck-Letmathe of Nestlé, to act against the use of food products for the production of biofuels at the G8 summit.
There is also some criticism: according to some groups the support of multinationals like Unilever is only out of self-interest: “It is not easy: I knew that from day one, and it is risky, because there are cynics out there, and I always say cynicism is the lowest form of taking responsibility”, said Polman.